Ovarian cancer affects ovaries, which are female reproductive organs that sit on either side of the uterus. “Ovarian cancer represents three per cent cancer cases in women. It is hard to spot ovarian cancer early. The symptoms can mimic other conditions and there is a chance you might not have any. There are no reliable screening tests to find early signs of the disease,” said Dr Dhivya, consultant – obstetrician and gynaecologist, Kauvery Hospitals Electronic City (Bengaluru).
If detected early, chance of five-year survival rate is 93 to 98 per cent. About 1 in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. But four out of five are not diagnosed in early stage, said Dr Dhivya.
However, you can take charge of your health.
This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, observed every year in March, learn which symptoms to be aware of so you can discuss with your doctor. Also, find what things put women at high risk of the disease so you can get preventive treatment, if necessary.
Why does ovarian cancer often go undetected?
In its early stages, ovarian cancer may not present any noticeable signs when symptoms do appear. There are other kinds of symptoms you normally associate with more common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and urinary tract infection. In general, women start getting symptoms when cancer begins to spread, invading other parts of the body.
What are the so-called ‘silent symptoms’ of ovarian cancer?
Early signs of ovarian cancer overlap with symptoms of other common conditions. Most of the time these symptoms are caused by something that is not cancer.
Waiting, ignoring your symptoms or hoping they will go away is not the safest option, the expert said. “You are the expert on your body, so trust your intuition if something feels wrong or abnormal, and follow up with your doctor,” she said while listing down symptoms like:
*Bloating, difficulty in eating
*Abdominal or pelvic pain, abdomen swelling
*Change in your bowel habits like constipation, diarrhoea, or others
*Urinary frequency and urgency
*Appetite changes (loss of appetite, feeling full after small meal)
*Menstrual changes – missing period, bleeding heavily, spotting, bleeding when not in periods, unusual vaginal discharge
*Pain during sex
*Chronic fatigue and weight loss
“If you get treatment for one of these conditions and your symptoms stick around for two or more weeks, follow up with gynaecologist,” she said.
What could put you at high risk?
You may be at high risk for ovarian cancer if you have:
*Family history of ovarian cancer
*Had breast, gynaecological or colon cancer in the past
*BRCAI or BRCA2 genetic mutation
*Never had a pregnancy
*Used hormone therapies or fertility drugs
*Have had endometriosis
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Unlike other types of cancer, there’s currently no screening test to detect ovarian cancer at early stage. There is no single test to detect ovarian cancer. Instead, several tests are used to look for tumour in ovaries and then test it to determine if it’s benign or malignant.
Diagnostic tests most often used are
*Pelvic examination – to check change in size and shape of your ovaries
*Vaginal ultrasound – to take picture of ovaries, tubes and uterus
*CA125 – higher level in ovarian cancer
*Biopsy – Take a sample of tissue and test
How to be an advocate for yourself?
Delaying the diagnosis of cancer can danger life. Given that there is not a regular screening test and symptoms overlap with other conditions, good treatment outcomes may depend on your ability to self advocate.
Many don’t notice symptoms until ovarian cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. But knowing what symptoms to look for can help with early detection. Make an appointment with your doctor if you are worried about cancer risk. The outlook for ovarian cancer can improve with early diagnosis and detection, stated Dr Dhivya.