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Ovarian cancer 101: Here’s why early detection makes all the difference

Updated on:9 June 2021, 15:53pm IST
Ovarian cancer has become increasingly prevalent among women, but early detection is the key to handling it effectively.
Dr Tejaswini J
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There are several risk factors for ovarian cancer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Ovarian cancer is increasingly affecting women all over the world. The most challenging part about this cancer is that the initial symptoms may get overlooked as a period-related problem or any other common illness of the stomach. This makes the prognosis highly difficult. 

In most women, ovarian cancers originate in the epithelium, or outer lining of the ovary. At this stage, the cancer may show a 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 that appear as regular abdomen-related problems and ignore them. Also, taking medications may give temporary relief for a few of these symptoms. It is advised for women to visit the gynecologist if the symptoms persist, instead of taking over the counter medicines. 

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

It’s important to be aware of this disease. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
  • 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 grows 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 are no scientifically known causes for a woman to develop ovarian cancer. Obesity, a 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 of 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, the doctor may suggest the patient to undergo a pelvic exam. It will help in understanding the irregularities in the region. An abdominal CT scan, blood test to measure cancer antigen, and transvaginal ultrasound are the other few tests to detect ovarian cancer. 

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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. 

Dr Tejaswini J Dr Tejaswini J

Dr Thejaswini J, Consultant, OBG, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road (A unit of Manipal Hospitals).
Dr Tejaswini is a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology with a distinguished academic career having vast experience in performing normal and assisted deliveries and caesarean sections. She encourages normal delivery and also handles high risk pregnancies, like gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, pre-term delivery as well as in emergency situations. She has performed large number of MTPs and has managed threatened abortions, missed abortions etc.