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An ovarian neoplasm is an abnormal growth located on or in the ovaries. Some neoplasms are or have the potential to become malignant, or cancerous, while others are benign. Even a benign neoplasm can cause significant health problems, however. Depending on the precise nature and severity of the condition, treatments for an ovarian neoplasm can include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or surgical removal.
Neoplasms are abnormal groups of cells caused by excessive cell reproduction that causes the tissue to grow excessively and out of sync with the surrounding parts of the body. This phenomenon is called neoplasia, or new growth. The words “neoplasm” and “tumor” are often used interchangeably, but not all neoplasms are tumors. Malignant cells produced by neoplasia can also be interspersed with normal cells, a condition called carcinoma in situ.
A benign ovarian neoplasm does not present a risk of spreading elsewhere in the body, as a malignant one does, but it is still a potentially serious medical condition. In some cases, benign neoplasms disappear on their own after a time. If this does not happen, these growths are treated by removing them surgically. The surgeon usually attempts to excise the neoplasm while leaving the ovary itself intact, if possible, as removing the ovaries results in infertility and causes hormonal problems with significant negative effects on health, particularly in premenopausal women. In postmenopausal women, the ovaries are often removed entirely to eliminate the possibility of a recurrence that would require further surgery.
A malignant ovarian neoplasm, or ovarian cancer, is also treated surgically, sometimes in combination with other treatments. If the cancer is detected early enough and the patient wishes to preserve her fertility, it may be possible to remove only the affected ovary and its associated fallopian tube while leaving the other intact. More advanced cancers are treated by removing both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the uterus. If the malignant cells have spread beyond the ovaries, this is followed by a procedure called debulking, in which the surgeon will attempt to excise any additional malignant tumors that have spread into the abdomen.
Surgery is generally followed by chemotherapy intended to destroy any surviving malignant cells. Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of drugs that are administered by injection, either into the bloodstream or directly into the abdomen. Most commonly, one of the drugs is a platinum compound, and the other is one of a class of organic compounds called taxanes.
In some cases, treatment involves radiation therapy, which uses x-rays to destroy cancerous cells. This can be done in combination with chemotherapy or by itself. Hormone therapy may also be used. This involves the injection of drugs that reduce the production of estrogen, a hormone that, despite its importance to healthy female physiology, is also carcinogenic and so can increase the growth of malignant neoplasms.