Last month, a very close friend of mine lost her mother in the battle against ovarian cancer. A monster that she fought with , for almost 10 years and finally got defeated at the age of 60. September is the Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, and I would want all the women reading this article to read further and be aware of this fatal disease that takes lives of more than 14,000 women every year.
Ovarian Cancer is the second most common cancer in Indian females, first being cervical cancer. A cancer which unfortunately has no screening tests available for early detection as a result of which is detected at very advanced stages.
What is ovarian cancer?
An ovary is one of two small, almond-shaped organs located on each side of the uterus that store eggs, or germ cells, and produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Who is at risk?
A family history of ovarian cancer is the strongest risk factor for this disease.
Other factors include:
- Women with mutations in the BRCA genes
- Personal or family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer
- Increasing age
- Endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body)
- Use of hormone therapy for a long duration
Presence of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean one will get ovarian cancer. It just means that one should be very careful and report to the doctor if you experience any of the belowmentioned symptoms for a long duration.
The reason why ovarian cancer is often detected in advanced stages is because the ovaries are present deep in the abdominal cavity and the complaints are often non- specific and vague. Patient may experience :
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
- Upset stomach or heartburn
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Constipation or menstrual changes
If you experience any of these symptoms, please talk to your clinician as early detection markedly improves response to treatment and increases women’s chances of survival.
SCREENING AND DIAGNOSIS:
Till date, there is no concrete screening test to pick up cancer at an early stage. However, a combination of the undermentioned tests can give some clue to the presence of this monster in the body. These tests should specially be offered to women who are at high risk of the disease.
- Transvaginal Sonography: This ultrasound is performed for women who are at high risk. It can detect abnormalities in size, shape and other features of ovaries
- CA-125 Test: CA 125 is the most important serum marker for detection of ovarian cancer. This is a protein produced by the ovarian cancer cells and can be used to detect the same in patients at high risk. It is also used for monitoring treatment and recurrence of ovarian cancer. But it can also be raised in certain other conditions like fibroids.
Any abnormal results in the above 2 tests are followed by CT scan and biopsy of the ovarian mass.
There exists an entire bucket of options like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and immunotherapy depending on the stage and type of ovarian cancer. And yes! People do survive. The good news is that survival rates increase drastically if detected early.
Some factors are known to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. These are:
- Use of oral contraceptive pills for a duration longer than 5 years
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Both these processes delay ovulation, stopping ovarian cells from dividing.
- Regular exercise and diet keeps our body healthy and gives us the strength to fight off anything abnormal.