There are several different types of cancer of the ovary, and as the ovary is the source of eggs for fertilisation and growth into new humans, the cells in the ovary, when cancerous, may develop into many different types of tissue. One of the most unusual and serious types of ovarian cancer is a teratoma, in which all types of strange tissue may develop, including gland tissue, muscle tissue and even teeth.
Cancer of the ovary is a relatively uncommon cancer, but it is a particularly nasty one as there are few symptoms and it cannot be detected until it is well advanced.
About 900 women in Australia will develop cancer of the ovary every year, and the majority of them will be over 60 years of age. Interestingly, the incidence in Tasmania is almost twice that of mainland states, but the reason for this is unknown. The overall Australian incidence is considerably lower than that of most developed countries.
Most women present with a large, painless lump in the lower abdomen, or with a pelvic discomfort. A CT scan of the pelvis is the easiest way to diagnose the presence of a tumour, and an operation will then be performed to remove the tumour and determine its type.
Drug treatment (chemotherapy) with cytotoxics is important in the treatment of ovarian cancer. A number of different drugs may be used, and they often slow or control the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body.
The overall five-year survival rate for all ovarian cancer patients is only 35%.