Cancer of the ovaries is one of the more dangerous forms of the disease, primarily because it is often no spotted until it has already started to spread. Although almost all cancer occurs on the surface of the ovary rather than internally, initial symptoms are rare, and even in those cases in which there are symptoms, they may be difficult to spot or recognize. Fewer than two percent of women will get ovarian cancer, but the risk more than triples in family members of ovarian cancer patients, and can exceed 50 percent in women with certain gene mutations also associated with breast cancer.
Symptoms, when they occur, can include painful intercourse, unexplained vaginal bleeding, urinary symptoms including greater frequency or urgency, and general signs of illness such as fatigue, unexplained weight loss, diarrhea or constipation, pain in the abdomen or a constant feeling of fullness, nausea or loss of appetite, and a general malaise. In addition to family history, the primary risk factors are age and never having been pregnant; the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy seem to offer a significant degree of protection against cancer.
Now researchers think they may have new insight into what causes ovarian cancer to develop. The fact that it is usually detected late has been a hindrance to finding causes, but now a better understanding of what causes the cancer to strike the ovaries could help with the creation of better diagnostic techniques that will make early detection easier and more reliable.
What they found was that the adult stem cells that help fix the ovaries when they are damaged have a location in the place where the ovaries are connected with the rest of the body, called the hilum. It is believed that stem cells found in the hilum are co-opted by tumor growth and development. The discovery of these cells in the hilum explains why ovarian cancer is usually found on the outside of the ovaries.