Health issues always present themselves with tell-tale signs and warnings. In the case of ovarian cancer, for instance, there are some “subtle signs and symptoms“, says Dr Niti Raizada, director, medical oncology and hemato oncology, Fortis Hospital, Richmond Road, Bangalore.

She explains that ovarian cancer begins in the female organs which produce eggs known as the ovaries. This form of cancer is the third common among women in India, with 46,000 new cases each year. “Family history of cancer forms an important part of evaluation,” she says.

According to the doctor, presentation of ovarian cancer includes:

– Often asymptomatic
– Abdominal bloating
– Change in bowel habits, indigestion, or nausea
– Fluid in abdomen known as ascites
– Weight loss and generalised fatigue
– Pelvic discomfort
– Backache
– Increased frequency of urination
– Irregular menstruation, difficulty eating, and urinary issues are just a few signs of the later stages of ovarian cancer, when it has spread to the pelvis and the abdomen.

“Unfortunately, there are no symptoms in the early stages. When the cancer is contained to the ovaries, it is the easiest to treat. Any woman who has ovaries is at risk of ovarian cancer, although there are some factors that increase this risk,” Dr Raizada explains.

How to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer

The doctor suggests the following tips:

1. Diet and exercise

Weekly exercise regime and a healthy diet are important. Plenty of fruits, vegetables and food rich in vitamin D are some of the dietary measures. Working out 30-40 minutes every day can reduce the risk by up to 20 per cent. Have an active lifestyle.

2. Oral contraceptives

Oral contraceptive intake among women is studied to have up to a 50 per cent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer, but one requires medical consultation prior. Length of intake also has some association.

Ovarian cancer begins in the female organs which produce eggs known as the ovaries. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

3. Avoiding carcinogens

Carcinogens are substances that are capable of causing cancer. Substances such as talcum powder (baby powder, vaginal deodorants and makeup) are known to have some uncertain association.

4. Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Women who have birthed at least one child, especially before the age of 30, have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer and even breast cancer. Breastfeeding is also known to lower the risk.

5. Healthy lifestyle

Avoiding the use and exposure of tobacco products can not only lower your risk of ovarian cancer, but many other types of cancers as well. Along with it, limiting your alcohol consumption is best.

6. Genetic Link

Some ovarian cancers are linked to genetic changes and run-in families with several cases of breast and ovarian cancer. One such important mutation is called BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2). Identifying such families and their genetic risks will help implement risk-reduction strategies.

It is important to identify high-risk groups which can be subjected to screening for ovarian cancer. These screening methods include a trans-vaginal ultrasound and serum Ca125 (blood test). Screening tools are generally non-invasive.

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