Ovarian cancer – delay in prognosis increases the burden

August 19, 2021

Ovarian cancer is one of the increasing cancer affecting women all over the world. The most challenging part about this cancer is that the initial symptoms may get overlooked as just the period related problem or other common illness of the stomach making the prognosis difficult.

In most women, ovarian cancers originate in the epithelium, or outer lining, of the ovary. At this stage, the cancer may show few initial symptoms like:

  • Abdominal bloating, pressure or pain in the stomach
  • Abnormal fullness after eating
  • Difficulty in eating
  • Increased urge to pass urine
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Pain while having sex
  • Backache

It is easy to get confused with these signs falsely relating it to other regular abdomen related problems and ignore them. Also, taking medications may give temporary relief for few of these symptoms. It is advised for women to visit the gynecologist if the symptoms persists instead of taking over the counter medicines.

In many cases, ovarian cancer gets diagnosed after it spreads to the pelvis and abdomen which makes it difficult to treat. Ovarian cancers can be treated effectively when it if confined only to the ovary. There are 3 types of ovarian cancer wherein each cell can develop into a different type of tumor:

  • Epithelial tumors: This type of tumor forms in the layer of tissue present outside of the ovaries. Most of the ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
  • Stromal tumors: This type of tumor grow in the hormone-producing cells. Few cases of ovarian tumours are of this type.
  • Germ cell tumors: This is developed in the egg-producing cells. This is a rare type of tumor.

What increases the risk of ovarian cancer?

There is no scientifically known causes for a woman to develop ovarian cancer. Obesity the major lifestyle disorder can increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Along with this, family history of ovarian cancer, regular use of certain fertility medications, hormone therapies, endometriosis, genetic reasons can also lead to ovarian cancer.

How difficult is it to diagnose ovarian cancer?

Ovaries are situated deep inside the abdominal cavity. Therefore, it is impossible to feel the tumor development in this region. Also, there is no routine diagnostic screening available for ovarian cancer. As the symptoms of this type to cancer are not very specific, it is crucial to have a regular consultation with the gynaecologist when a woman observes any of the above signs.

As a part of diagnosis, doctor may suggest the patient to undergo pelvic exam. It will help in understanding the irregularities in the region. Abdominal CT scan, blood test to measure cancer antigen, Transvaginal ultrasound are the other few tests to detect ovarian cancer.

How to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer?

Though there are no known practices to prevent ovarian cancer, the risk can be reduced by taking various measures.

  • Exercise and Diet: By maintaining a daily exercise regime and a healthy diet, the risk of ovarian cancer can be decreased.
  • Oral Contraceptives: Women who have a history of taking oral contraceptives have less chance of developing ovarian cancer. The longer the medication is used, the lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Avoiding Carcinogens: Beware of the drugs and chemicals you use on a daily basis.
  • Pregnancy & Breastfeeding: Women who have given birth before the age of 30 and have breastfed the baby, have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Avoiding the use and exposure of tobacco products can help in lowering the risk for ovarian cancer.

Sometimes, the health problems we face may seem very simple. However, it is important to notice them early and consult the doctor to get the timely treatment.

- By Dr. Thejaswini J, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Columbia Asia Hospital - Sarjapur Road (A unit of Manipal Hospitals)

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