BY DR TRISHNA TARALKAR
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, and the second leading cause of death from gynecological cancers. It affects 1 in 70 women during their lifetime.
In Goa, it is estimated that there are around 3,000 new cases every year; however, only 50% of these patients survive beyond 5 years after diagnosis due to late detection and lack of awareness about symptoms among women as well as their families and friends.
Given this high incidence rate, all women (especially those over the age of 40) need to be aware of the early signs so that they can seek timely medical attention, if necessary.
WHAT IS OVARIAN CANCER?
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the ovaries. This cancer can be hard to detect and often goes undetected until it's at an advanced stage when the disease has spread from the ovaries to other parts of the body.
There are three types of ovarian cancer – epithelial, germ cell and stromal tumors. Each type has specific symptoms associated with it that may indicate whether you should see your doctor right away or wait until your next routine checkup.
● Abdominal pain or bloating
● Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
● Pelvic pain (often described as a dull ache)
● Unusual vaginal bleeding (including between periods) that doesn't go away after 3 months and is not related to menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
DIAGNOSING OVARIAN CANCER
The diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made through a combination of physical exams, imaging tests and blood tests. A biopsy may also be required to confirm the diagnosis.
PHYSICAL EXAM: Your doctor will perform a pelvic examination to check for lumps or other signs of disease in your ovaries and uterus.
IMAGING TESTS: Imaging studies such as ultrasound or CT scan can help detect tumours that are too small to feel during an exam.
BLOOD TESTS: These measure levels of certain hormones and proteins that may indicate ovarian cancer or another condition related to it (such as diabetes).
BIOPSY: This involves removing cells from an area where there's a concern about cancerous growths so they can be examined under a microscope by a pathologist, who specializes in diagnosing diseases.
RISK FACTORS FOR OVARIAN CANCER IN GOA
AGE: Ovarian cancer is more common in women over the age of 50, but it can occur at any age.
If you have a close family member with ovarian cancer, your chances of developing it yourself is higher than if you didn’t have this history.
OBESITY: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing several types of cancer, including ovarian cancer.
HORMONE THERAPY: Taking hormone replacement therapy drugs increases your chances of developing ovarian cancer by 2-3 times compared with women who do not use these medications.
PREVENTATIVE MEASURES FOR WOMEN
As a woman, there are several things you can do to help prevent ovarian cancer.
REGULAR PELVIC EXAMS: It's important to have regular pelvic exams with your doctor or gynecologist so they can check for any changes in your reproductive organs and catch any potential problems early on.
HEALTHY LIFESTYLE: Maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and getting enough exercise are all ways to lower your risk of developing ovarian cancer or other health issues later in life.
If you're concerned about genetic testing as part of prevention efforts against ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about whether this is right for you – and what kind of information would be helpful if it turns out that there's an increased risk factor in your family history.
You should be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and if you have any of them, it's important to see your doctor. It's also helpful to know that early detection is key in treating this disease. A healthy lifestyle can help prevent ovarian cancer, so make sure you're eating well and exercising regularly.
(Dr Trishna Taralkar is an Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at SMRC’s VM Salgaocar Hospital, Chicalim, Goa.)