Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. The female reproductive system contains two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries — each about the size of an almond — produce eggs (ova) as well as the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat. Early-stage ovarian cancer, in which the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully. Surgery and chemotherapy are generally used to treat ovarian cancer.Symptoms
Most women with ovarian cancer will have an operation to remove the uterus and cervix, along with both fallopian tubes and ovaries. Unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy
If the cancer is found early and it is only in one ovary, some young women who still wish to have children may have only one ovary and fallopian tube removed.Omentectomy
The omentum is a sheet of fatty tissue attached to the stomach and bowel. It hangs down in front of the intestines. Ovarian cancer often spreads to the omentum and it may need to be removed.Lymphadenectomy
The pelvis contains large groups of lymph nodes. Cancer cells can spread from your ovaries to nearby lymph nodes. Your doctor may suggest removing some in a lymphadenectomy (also called lymph node dissection).Colectomy
If cancer spreads to the bowel, some of the bowel may be removed. A new opening called a stoma may be created (colostomy or ileostomy). This is usually temporary.Removal of other organs
Ovarian cancer can spread to many organs in the abdomen. In some cases, parts of the liver, diaphragm, bladder and spleen may be removed if it is safe to do.
Surgery for ovarian cancer is complex. To ensure the best result, it is recommended that you are treated by a gynaecological oncologist at a specialist centre for gynaecological cancer. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information about specialist centres in your area or see Understanding Surgery.
All tissue and fluids removed during surgery are examined for cancer cells by a pathologist. The results will help confirm the type of ovarian cancer you have, if it has spread (metastasised), and its stage. It may not be possible to remove all the cancerous tissue. Surgery is often followed by chemotherapy, which will shrink or destroy any remaining cancer cells.
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