After breast cancer, ovarian cancer is the most common cancer affecting women. Asymptomatic in nature, ovarian cancer in most of the cases is diagnosed in the advanced stage; hence, it is also termed as a ‘silent killer’. If left untreated, cancer can become fatal by spreading to other parts of the body.
Dr. Meenu Walia, Director-Medical Oncology & Haematology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, gives us answers to 10 questions that women usually have about ovarian cancer.
#1 Are There Any Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer?
Some risk factors like family history are out of anyone’s control; however, other risk factors like lifestyle choices can be controlled. Primary ovarian cancer risk factors include:
- History of breast or colon cancer
- 1stdegree relatives with a history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Late or no pregnancy
- Older than 65 years of age
- Early mensuration and late menopause
- History of hormone replacement therapy
#2 What are the Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Primary ovarian cancer symptoms include:
- Pelvic and abdominal pain
- Gas, indigestion or nausea
- Frequent urination, diarrhoea or constipation
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Abnormal rectal or vaginal bleeding
- Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating
#3 How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
Before conducting the required tests, the doctor enquires about the family history of the patient. This is followed by a physical examination which includes a pelvic exam. The doctor tests the lower abdomen and vagina for lumps. If a lump is found, Transvaginal Ultrasound, CA 125 Blood test and Biopsy are performed for accurate diagnosis.
#4 What is CA 125 Blood test?
This blood test measures the amount of cancer antigen – CA 125 in the blood. This blood test is conducted to monitor certain cancers during and after the treatment. CA 125 testis also done to look for early ovarian cancer symptoms in those who are at an advanced risk of developing it.A high CA 125 level doesn't always mean that a woman has ovarian cancer.
#5 Can Ovarian Cancer Develop After the Removal of Ovaries?
No, women who have got their ovaries removed cannot get affected by ovarian cancer. However, there is a rare cancer type known as primary peritoneal carcinoma that is a close relative of ovarian cancer and can develop even without the ovaries. The treatment of this cancer type is the same as ovarian cancer.
#6 Like Breast Cancer, Is There a Screening Test Available for Ovarian Cancer?
Unfortunately, there is still no screening test available for ovarian cancer. Keeping away from the risk factors that are in control and having proper knowledge about the early ovarian cancer symptoms is important. If any discomfort in the lower abdomen or other symptoms persists for more than two weeks, seeking immediate medical assistance is advisable. As a safety measure; every woman should undergo annual vaginal, pelvic and rectal examination.
#7 What are Ovarian Cysts? Do they Have any Connection with Ovarian Cancer?
Cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the surface of the ovaries and are common during the childbearing years. They are mostly a result of any hormone level imbalance that occurs during the menstrual cycle. Cysts are usually harmless and dissolve on their own. Fortunately, most of the cysts never become malignant or cancerous.
#8 Who is the Right Health Specialist to Treat Ovarian Cancer?
Oncologists trained for Gynaecological cancers can best treat ovarian cancer. They are trained in advanced abdominal, pelvic surgery and oncology. Furthermore, they specialise in diagnosis and treatment of cancer in a woman's reproductive organs.
#9What are Side Effects of Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy targets those cells that are growing and dividing rapidly and also affects the healthyones. The agents used in chemotherapy often affect the cells that line the digestive system, fight viruses and make hair. Therefore, those undergoing chemotherapy often experience changes in the thickness and colour of their hair, hair loss, digestive problems and a decreased immune system function. Fatigue, anaemia and slower wound healing are other side effects of chemotherapy.
#10Is There Any Proven Way to Prevent Ovarian Cancer?
No, there is no proven waythat helps in preventing ovarian cancer. However, there are a few things that a woman can do to reduce her chances of developing this fatal disease. These include:
Routine pelvic exams
Reporting persistent abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding immediately to the doctor
Consuming a low-fat diet
Keeping a check on body weight
Limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking