A-Z of Ovarian Cancer


A

Abdominal CT scan
A series of x-ray pictures taken of the abdomen by a machine that encircles the body like a giant tube. Computers are then used to generate cross-sectional images of the inside of the body.
Adjuvant chemotherapy
One or more anticancer drugs or hormones used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy in order to remove any remaining cancer cells in patients whose cancer is likely to recur.
Antiemetic drugs
Can prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting, which can be side effects of some chemotherapy drugs.
Ascites
Excess fluid in the space between the membranes lining the abdomen and abdominal organs.

B

Benign tumours
Benign tumours are non-cancerous tumours. Benign tumours are only very rarely life-threatening. They do not spread and invade other tissues. Benign tumours can usually be removed and rarely grow back.
Bilateral salpingo-oopherectomy
Removal of both ovaries and the fallopian tubes.
Bioinformatics
The management and analysis of biological information using computers, to accelerate and enhance biological research.
Biomarker
A naturally occurring molecule, gene, or characteristic by which a particular pathological or physiological process, disease, etc. can be identified. A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition.
Borderline or low malignant potential (LMP) tumours
A borderline form of cancer that may eventually spread and invade other tissues. Most of these tumours are benign but a few spread and progress. There are certain features that allow the pathologist (a doctor who diagnoses disease by examining cells and tissue samples) to predict with some degree of confidence how one of these tumours will behave.

C

CA125 blood test
CA125 is a protein released by ovarian cancer tissue which is often found to be at high levels in the bloodstream in women with ovarian cancer. It is used to diagnose and follow up ovarian tumours before and after treatment. However, to date, it has not been shown to be effective at picking up early stage ovarian cancer, and levels of CA125 can be raised by many normal tissues or other conditions, such as endometriosis. Currently it is not yet specific or accurate enough to be used as a widespread screening tool.
Clear cell tumours
A type of epithelial ovarian cancer that occurs primarily in women aged 40 to 80. They make up 6% of epithelial tumours and are almost always malignant. About 50% are associated with endometriosis.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
A talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.
Cytoreduction (debulking)
Removal of as much of the tumour as possible. This is believed to improve to improve a woman's chance of survival.

E

Endometrioid tumours
This type of epithelial ovarian cancer occurs primarily in women aged 50 to 70. Around 20% of epithelial tumours are endometrioid and most are malignant. About 20% of endometrioid tumours occur in women who also have endometrial carcinoma and 5% are linked to endometriosis, a disorder of the lining of the womb.
Endometriosis
A common condition where the tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (the endometrium) is found outside the womb. It is estimated to affect around 2 million women in the UK, mainly diagnosed between the age of 25 and 40. For more information about endometriosis visit NHS Choices.

F

Fallopian Tubes
Also known as the uterine tubes – a pair of 4-inch (10cm) long narrow tubes connecting the ovaries to the womb.
Fanconi Syndrome
A disorder of the kidney tubes where certain substances normally absorbed into the bloodstream by the kidneys are released into the urine instead. Seen when a child inherits a BRCA2 gene mutation from both their mother and father.

G

Gene
The basic biological unit of heredity. It consists of a sequence of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) needed to contribute to a specific functional product.
Genetic Counselling
A service that provides support, information and advice about genetic conditions. It’s conducted by healthcare professionals who have been specially trained in the science of human genetics (a genetic counsellor or a clinical geneticist).
Genome
All of the genetic information or hereditary material of a particular individual.
Genomics
The study of the structure and function of genomes, which consist of all the genetic information or hereditary material of a particular individual.
Germ Cell Ovarian Cancer
A type of ovarian cancer that originates in the cells in the ovary that develop into eggs. These types of tumours account for 5-10% of ovarian cancer cases and they tend to occur in younger women (mostly in their 20s). Most germ cell tumours are non-cancerous and 90% of cases can be successfully treated.
Grading
The grading of ovarian cancer gives doctors important information about the disease and which kind of treatment would be best. It describes how similar or dissimilar the tumour is to normal tissue.

H

Heterogeneity
Or ‘tumour heterogeneity’ describes differences between tumours of the same type in different patients, and between cancer cells within a tumour. Both can lead to different responses to therapy.
Histology
The minute structure of tissue as viewed through a microscope.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
A treatment used to relieve symptoms of the menopause. It replaces female hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause.
Hysterectomy
A surgical procedure to remove the womb (uterus).

I

Interval debulking
The term used for surgery which takes place after an initial course of chemotherapy.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
One of several techniques available to help people with fertility problems have a baby.

L

Laparoscopy
Often called keyhole surgery. It involves inserting a telescope through the umbilicus (belly button) so that the contents of the abdomen can be inspected. Sometimes it is possible to perform operations through the laparoscope, but major surgery for ovarian cancer is not usually possible.
Laparotomy
A laparotomy is what most people call an operation in which a cut is made in the abdomen. This is the sort of operation which is usually required to remove an ovarian cancer.
Leukopenia
A decrease in the number of white blood cells, which can lead to infection.
Lymphadenectomy
Removal of one or more lymph nodes.
Lymph nodes
Small bean shaped, pea sized glands clustered in the neck, armpits, abdomen and groin. They have a defensive role and serve as a barrier to the spread of infection.
Lynch Syndrome
A genetic condition that can slightly increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. A female carrier with Lynch Syndrome has an up to 10% chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime, and also an increased risk of bowel, womb, stomach, pancreatic, biliary and bladder cancers. To find out more about Lynch Syndrome visit the Lynch Syndrome UK website.

M

Malignant Tumours
Malignant tumours are cancer. Malignant cancer will spread beyond the ovary, invading and damaging other organs of the body. The spread of cancer beyond its tissue of origin is called metastasis.
Mastectomy
An operation to remove the breast that is used to treat breast cancer in women or men. It can also be used to reduce the risk of cancer developing in the breast.
Menopause
When a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
MRI Scan
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.
Mucinous tumours
A type of epithelial ovarian cancer most common in women aged 30 to 50, and make up roughly 10% of epithelial tumours. Most of the time they’re not cancerous: 75% of mucinous tumours are benign, 15% are malignant, and 10% are borderline.

N

Neutropenia
A shortage of white blood cells meaning that it is sometimes difficult to fight off infections.

O

Omenectomy
Removal of fatty tissue that covers the bowels.
Omentum
The fatty tissue from the upper part of the abdominal cavity near the stomach and intestines.
Oncologist
A doctor who treats cancer.
Oopherectomy
Removal of one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) ovaries.
Oral Contraceptive Pill
A contraceptive in the form of a pill containing oestrogen and progestin to inhibit ovulation and prevent conception.
Ovary
A female reproductive organ in which eggs are produced, present in humans and other vertebrates as a pair.

P

Paracentesis
A process by which fluid build-up in the abdomen, which can occur with ovarian cancer, is removed by inserting a needle into the affected area, and drained off.
Primary peritoneal carcinoma
Primary peritoneal carcinoma is not a type of ovarian cancer but it is closely related to epithelial ovarian cancer. It’s also sometimes referred to as extra-ovarian primary peritoneal carcinoma or serious surface papillary carcinoma. This type of cancer is rare and develops from the cells that line the pelvis. It has the same symptoms as ovarian cancer and is diagnosed and treated in the same way.
Protein
Large molecules composed of amino acids whose specific order is determined by the DNA sequence in the gene that encodes it. Proteins each have unique functions to perform a wide variety of activities and, as such, they are essential to the life of the cell.

R

Recurrent tumour
A tumour which returns after the completion of treatment.
Remission
No evidence of disease after treatment has been completed.

S

Salpingectomy
Removal of one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) fallopian tubes.
Serous tumours
The most common type of epithelial ovarian cancer. These occur most often in women between the ages of 40 and 60. Sometimes they’re cancerous, sometimes they’re not: 50% are malignant (cancerous), 33% are benign (non-cancerous), and 17% are mildly cancerous, meaning the tumour grows very slowly.
Sex-cord stromal ovarian tumours
Sex cord stromal tumours begin in the connective cells that hold the ovaries together. They can affect all age groups. Most of these tumours are either not cancerous or are very slow growing and account for 5% of all ovarian cancer cases.
Staging
The staging of ovarian cancer gives doctors important information about the disease and which kind of treatment would be best. It describes how far the cancer has spread. The FIGO staging system is used which goes from 1 to 4 (1 is the earliest stage).

T

Thoracentesis
A process in which fluid build-up, as a result of ovarian cancer, is drained from the chest cavity by inserting a needle.
Thrombocytopenia (Low platelet count)
A decreased number of the tiny blood cells called. These cells form clots and so reduced numbers can lead to bleeding.
Transitional cell tumours
A type of epithelial ovarian cancer. These are mostly malignant tumours and are often made up of cells that look like the cells that line the urinary tract.
Trans-vaginal ultrasound scan
A way of looking at the ovaries without surgery. It involves the insertion of a probe into the vagina and offers a clearer view than by scanning through the abdominal wall.
Tumour suppressor gene
A gene encoding a protein that normally limits cell growth and can suppress or block the development of cancer. Loss of function of these genes is believed to be a necessary prerequisite for tumour development. BRCA1 and p53 are well-known tumour suppressor genes.

U

Undifferentiated tumours
A type of epithelial ovarian cancer that doesn’t fit into any category. They account for about 15% of epithelial tumours, and tend to be malignant.

V

Variants of Uncertain Significance
Mutated BRCA1/2 genes that are not yet associated with an increased risk of cancer.

W

Womb (uterus)
An organ of the female reproductive system that is responsible for the development of the embryo and foetus during pregnancy.