In this article, Hvingelby discusses the types of cancers most commonly found on a woman's ovary.
The most common type of ovarian cancer comes from an epithelial tumor. Epithelial is the medical term for cells that line organs, cavities, and blood vessels. You can think of epithelial cells as a type of internal and external skin cell.
The good news is that most tumors of the ovary’s epithelium are not cancerous. They stay on the ovary and do not spread to other organs. When a tumor is not cancerous, it is called benign. Here are the names of some benign ovarian tumors:
Benign tumors can go away on their own. If they cause uncomfortable symptoms, continue to grow or start secreting hormones, they can be removed by surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is most often used to remove these tumors, since it is the least invasive. In some cases the entire ovary needs to be removed, for example if it surrounds the ovary and can’t be surgically separated.
Low malignant potential tumors (LMP) are made of cells that are replicating in an unnatural way, but have not spread to other tissues. They also do not invade the ovaries, uterus, or organ where they started. Instead, they just sit on top and grow bigger. Some other names for LMP tumors include borderline tumors, or atypical proliferating tumors.
Since LMP tumors become uncomfortable as they grow bigger, it is common to have them surgically removed. During the removal process, the abdominal cavity is examined for spread to any other organs or tissues. If there is spread, chemotherapy may be offered.
It is important to keep all follow up appointments and address any changes such as increased pain, bloating, constipation, nausea, diarrhea right away. Patients usually need to go to the doctor every 6 months for several years to determine if new tumors are growing and if they are becoming cancerous.
About 90% of cancerous ovarian tumors are epithelial tumors. This means they grow out of the cells that line the ovary, and not out of the hormone or structural cells inside the ovary. Tumors that grow out of the same cell type, such as epithelial cells, can still have unique characteristics. These characteristics are important to understand when deciding what kind of treatment is most likely to work.
Determining the cellular characteristics of an epithelial tumor is done by looking at the cancer cells closely under a microscope. The cells may be further classified as:
Serous, clear cell, mucinous, endometrioid or undifferentiated.
Serous tumors are the most common.
Finally, the grade of the tumor (how abnormal the cells are) and the stage of the cancer (how far it has spread) needs to be determined.
If you learn you have an abnormal growth on your ovary, remember that most growths are non-cancerous. However, it is critical that you complete all of the required tests and follow-up visits. Most cancerous ovarian tumors are first noticed once they have been growing for a while, which makes treatment much more difficult.
Once you have a complete diagnosis, you can talk to your medical provider about the possible causes of your ovarian cancer.