It can be very confusing to know the differences between ovarian and cervical cancers. Some people may even think that both are exactly the same thing. Both are indeed gynecologic cancers, but they affect different parts of the female reproductive system. Take a look at the explanation below and the signs you need to be aware of.
Where are the Ovaries?
The ovaries are located in the lower part of the abdomen, a little under the belly button and are situated on either side of the uterus. Ligaments that are attached to the uterus hold them in place. Ovaries are two oval-shaped organs and are the size of a large grape that produces ovum.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Any cancerous growth that begins in your ovary is ovarian cancer. It is one of the most common types of cancer amongst women and it is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths. Ovarian cancer develops when there’s an error in the DNA of a cell (mutations) located in the area of the ovaries. The mutations make the cell grow and multiply at a rapid pace, which creates a mass or tumor of abnormal cells. These abnormal cells will continue living, but the healthy cells will die. They can also invade nearby tissues and spread elsewhere in your body. The three types of ovarian cancer are:
- Epithelial tumors begin in the thin layer of the surface of the ovary. This is the most common type of ovarian cancer; with around 90% of cases of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
- Stromal tumors begin in the ovarian tissue that releases the hormone.
- Germ cell tumors begin in the cells that produce eggs and this type of ovarian cancer is very rare and usually occurs in younger women.
The cause of the mutation is still not clear, but doctors have identified some factors that can increase the risk of the disease. The risk factors of ovarian cancer are:
- Age. Although ovarian cancer can occur at any age, it is rare for the disease to develop in women younger than 40. Around half of the ovarian cancers occur in women 63 years of age or older.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Long-term use of estrogen hormone replacement therapy and hormone replacement therapy after menopause can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Overweight and obese. Women with a BMI of at least 30 have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. Obesity can also affect the survival rate of a woman with ovarian cancer.
- Family history. Ovarian cancer can run in your family. If your mother, sister, or even daughter has ovarian cancer, the risk for you is higher. It can also come from your father’s side.
- Had Breast Cancer. Due to the changes in the BRCA gene, if you have a history of breast cancer, your chance of ovarian cancer is also higher.
What are the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
The earliest stage of ovarian cancer has little to no symptoms. Even when there are symptoms, they usually resemble other medical conditions such as premenstrual syndrome and a temporary bladder problem. However, the symptoms of ovarian cancer will persist and worsen over time. The signs and symptoms are:
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Swelling or bloating of the abdomen
- Experiencing pressure or pain in the pelvis
- Vaginal bleeding
- Changes in bowel habits
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
If you experience any signs that worry you, make sure to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam, imaging test, and blood test to give your doctor clues about your diagnosis and prognosis. However, to confirm if you do have the disease, some doctors may need to do surgery.
What is the treatment for Ovarian Cancer?
A combination of surgery and chemotherapy is required to treat ovarian cancer. To remove ovarian cancer, you may need to undergo surgery to remove one ovary, surgery to remove both ovaries, surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus, and surgery for advanced cancer. Chemotherapy is usually used after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells, but you can also undergo chemotherapy before the surgery. Targeted therapy is also an option to treat ovarian cancer.
Where is the Cervix?
The cervix is the lowest part of the female’s uterus, which connects the uterus with the vagina. It is located in the bottom part of the abdomen and next to the bladder.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when the cells inside your cervix grow abnormally and invade other tissues in your body. It can spread to other parts of your body, mainly your vagina, bladder, liver, lungs, and rectum. The type of cervical cancer will determine your prognosis and treatment. The two main types are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cervical cancer that begins in the thin lining of the outer part of your cervix. Most cases of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma.
- Adenocarcinoma begins in the glandular cells lining the cervical canal.
One of the main causes of cervical cancer is various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. HPV is a common virus that can be passed through from any type of sexual contact. However, other factors increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. The risk factors are:
- Having sex at an early age. Early sexual activity is known to increase your risk of HPV.
- Having many sexual partners. Your chance of acquiring HPV is greater when you have a lot of sexual partners, especially if your sexual partners also have a great number of other sexual partners.
- Having other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other STIs, including gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, increases your risk of HPV.
- Smoking as the chemical in cigarette smoke interacts with the cells in the cervix, which causes precancerous changes that can progress to cancer.
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives. If taken longer than five years, oral contraceptives increase your risk of cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
In its early stages, cervical cancer has no symptoms. Usually, the symptoms occur when it has progressed to a dangerous stage. The symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding that can occur during or after sex, between periods (other than during menstruation), or after menopause.
- Pelvic pain during sexual intercourse.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that may be watery, bloody, heavy, and have a foul odor.
- Kidney failure caused by a bowel obstruction or urinary tract.
Although vaginal bleeding does not always mean cervical cancer, it is not a normal condition and you will need to seek medical help as soon as possible. To protect yourself from cervical cancer, it is highly advisable for you to attend cervical screening (smear test). During a smear test, a sample of cells is taken from your cervix to be checked under a microscope for abnormalities. If your result is abnormal, it does not mean you have cancer, but you do need to get diagnosed by a doctor.
What is the treatment for Cervical Cancer?
Several factors determine your treatment for cervical cancer, such as your preferences, the stage of cancer you have, and other health problems. The most common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of the three. Surgery is usually performed on early-stage cervical cancer; your surgery options are:
- Surgery to remove the cervix (known as a trachelectomy)
- Surgery to remove the uterus and the cervix (known as a hysterectomy)
- Surgery to remove cancer only.
Radiation therapy is usually combined with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be performed externally, internally, or both. It uses high-powered energy beams to kill cancer cells.