Ovarian cancer is the third most common cancer amongst Indian women after breast and cervical cancer and the figure has leapt up exponentially in the past 20 years. If this figure scares you, you need to be well aware of the symptoms, risk factors, and treatments options available for this deadly disease.
It is hard to detect ovarian cancer in the early stages. However, you can check for the following symptoms:
- Vague discomfort or pain in the abdomen (belly)
- Indigestion that does not go away
- Abdominal bloating
- Changes in bladder or bowel function (increased frequency of urination/constipation/ sense of incomplete evacuation)
- Early satiety (feeling full quickly after having a small quantity of meal)
If you are experiencing any or all of the aforementioned symptoms, you must contact your cancer doctor and get it checked.
The root cause of ovarian cancer is unknown but the following risk factors will tell you whether or not you are at the risk of getting this ailment. Have a look :
- Older age
- Women who have never given birth to a child
- Women who have never breastfed
- Early age at onset of menses and late age at menopause
- Long-standing endometriosis
- The family history of ovarian cancer and/or breast cancer(mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes)
- Family and/or personal history of uterine or colon cancer (mutations in genes involved in DNA repair)
- Talc use on external genitalia
But women who do not have any of the above-mentioned risk factors can still develop ovarian cancer.
Just like any other ailment, early detection is important in ovarian cancer but due to the lack of any successful screening tests, it becomes difficult to detect it in the early stages. However, the best way to protect yourself from it is to check your symptoms and consult the doctor without any delay. There is no known reliable way to prevent ovarian cancer. But there are certain factors which can help decrease the risk of ovarian cancer:
- Oral contraceptive pill use
- Multiparity (having given birth to two or more children)
- Removal of fallopian tubes / tubal ligation
- Removal of both tubes and ovaries in women who have tested positive for BRCA mutation
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The diagnosis of ovarian cancer begins with a medical history and physical exam. The physical exam includes a pelvic and rectal examination. Other tests and procedures to diagnose ovarian cancer include imaging tests and blood tests. In cases where the diagnosis can’t be certain, you might have to undergo surgery to remove an ovary and have it tested for signs of cancer.
The treatment of ovarian cancer generally consists of a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. All patients with suspected ovarian cancer should be referred to a gynecologic oncologist for proper evaluation and formation of the cancer treatment protocol. Women with ovarian masses should be operated upon in a centre with the availability of frozen section analysis with the plan to perform comprehensive surgical staging if frozen evaluation suggests malignancy.
Surgery in advanced cases of ovarian cancer may entail extensive procedures, including bowel resections, removal of the inner lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) and other procedures deemed necessary to remove the tumor completely. Besides surgery, most cases of ovarian cancer (except very early stage and low-grade cancers) also require chemotherapy.