What is Ovarian Cancer?
There are about 200 different types of cells in the body and each type of cell serves a unique purpose. Skin cells are protective in nature; cells found in organs secrete chemicals and hormones that maintain the body’s inner balance, and others send electrical signals through body via the nervous system. A cell replicates by making an identical copy of itself, based on its DNA.
Certain triggers can change a cell’s DNA. Common triggers include chemicals, radiation and irritation. When the internal programming of a cell gets out of balance, and it starts to divide out of control, this is called cancer. Any time a cell is altered at the genetic level it starts to behave in strange ways; this leads to all kinds of problems for the body.
For one thing, cancer cells often build tumors. Tumors are collections of abnormal cells that grow on various structures of the body. These tumors develop their own blood supply, and use oxygen and nutrients from the blood stream in order to grow bigger. They also send off seed cells which grow new tumors in other places of the body.
Cancer Cells on the Ovary
The ovaries are part of a woman’s reproductive system. It’s where her eggs are made. Each month a new egg leaves the ovary, enters a tube called the fallopian tube and makes its way to the uterus to possibly be fertilized by sperm that have entered through the vagina. It’s important to realize there is an open pathway from the vagina, all the way to the ovary, with the narrowest portion being through the fallopian tube.
Because the system is connected, from the vagina to the ovary, other material such as bacteria, or personal hygiene products such as talc, can travel from the outside of the body to the inside of the body along that pathway.
Ovaries are made of 3 different types of cells: epithelial, germ and stromal.
Epithelial cells cover the ovary, and most ovarian tumors come from these cells. Germ cells are the ones that make the egg, and stromal cells make hormones. Germ and stromal cells can also become cancerous.
When cells in the ovary become cancerous they begin by growing a tumor on the ovary itself. This can lead to symptoms such as bloating, urinary urgency and discomfort. Since the ovaries are inside the abdominal cavity, it doesn’t take long for the cancer cells to migrate to other internal organs.
When a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, one of the first steps is to determine the grade and stage of the cancer.
What Does Cancer Grade Mean?
Cells suspected to be cancerous are examined under a microscope. These cells are compared to how a normal cell should look. Cells are then graded from 1 to 3 based on how abnormal they look, so:
Grade 1: look and function almost like normal cells
Grade 2: look and function somewhat like normal cells
Grade 3: look and function least like normal cells
Grade 1 cells have the best chance of being treated, while grade 3 cells are the most serious.
What Does Cancer Stage Mean?
Staging refers to how far the abnormal cells have traveled from their origin. Staging goes from 0 to 4
Stage 0 (in situ): There are abnormal cells on the ovary, but they are not yet called cancerous.
Stage 1 and 2 (localized): Cancerous cells are present, have started replicating and invading the
Stage 3 (regional): Cancer has spread to nearby organs
Stage 4 (distant): Cancer has spread throughout the body. This is the most advanced and serious stage