What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that involves the ovaries. The ovary is the female gland for reproduction. In it are found egg cells which later on become fertilized in the uterus to form an embryo. A pair of ovaries is located in each side of the uterus or womb. The ovaries are the organs responsible for the production of female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle as well as pregnancy and the development of female characteristics such as body shape, body hair, breasts, etc. Every month, one egg is released from either of the two ovaries. The egg then travels through the fallopian tube and into the uterus. This is known as ovulation.
In ovarian cancer, the ovaries are affected by cancer as well as the surrounding areas such as such as the stomach, vagina and uterus. Ovarian cancer more commonly occurs in women aged 65 or over, but can affect women of any age. Cancer occurs when cells grow out of control until it forms a mass of cells called a tumor. Tumors that stay in one place and have limited growth are called benign tumors. On the other hand, those tumors that invade other parts of the body through the blood or the lymphatic systems and destroy healthy tissue while creating new blood vessels are known as malignant tumors. Tumors that spread to other parts of the body and grow are known as metastatic tumors. They tumors can invade and destroy healthy tissue. When the tumor metastasizes, it becomes difficult to treat.
Ovarian cancer can arise anywhere in the ovary; most commonly it can arise from the epithelium or the outer lining fo the ovary. Ovarian is one of the most common cancers among females. There are three types of ovarian cancers: epithelial ovarian cancer, germ cell ovarian cancer and stromal ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer usually arises from the surface of the ovary, while germ cell ovarian cancer is derived from the egg-producing cells within the body of the ovary. Stromal ovarian cancer on the other hand develops within the cells that hold the ovaries together. Metastic ovarian cancers are cancers from other parts of the body that have spread to the ovaries.
Initially there may be vague or no symptoms of ovarian cancer; however there may be gradual worsening of symptoms. Earlier symptoms may include pain in the pelvis, pain on the lower side of the body, pain in the lower stomach, back pain, indigestion or heartburn, feeling full rapidly when eating, more frequent and urgent urination, pain during sexual intercourse and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation. As ovarian cancer progresses, there may be nausea, weight loss, breathlessness, fatigue (tiredness) and loss of appetite.
There are women who have certain risk factors which can lead to an increased risk for ovarian cancer. One is family history. Women with close relatives who have/had ovarian cancer, as well as breast, colon, prostate or uterine cancers, have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to other women. Also majority of women who have ovarian cancers are over 65 years of age. Women who have never been pregnant, who have never taken contraceptive pills, who started their periods at an early age, and whose menopause have started at a later age than average are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
New Treatment for Ovarian Cancer Discovered
Recently, researchers from the University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix reported in Lancet Oncology that a new treatment for ovarian cancer can improve response rates (increase the rate of tumor shrinkage) and prolong the time until cancers recur. This drug, known as Trebananib (formally known as AMG 386; Amgen) is a first-in-class peptide-Fc fusion protein (or peptibody) that targets angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels into cancerous tumors) by inhibiting the binding of both angiopoietin 1 and 2 to the Tie2 receptor. This is very different mechanism of action than other agents that also effect angiogenesis by inhibiting vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) such as bevacizumab (Avastin; Genentech). This drug also does not increase the risks of hypertension (high blood pressure) and bowel perforation like bevaciuzmab, but still has a similar impact on tumor shrinkage and delaying cancer progression.
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