A woman usually puts her family’s health before her own. Many times this results in them putting off taking care of their health as they are busy taking care of their family members. This is one of the reasons that the needle on cancer diagnosis at an advanced stage, across the world, points more toward women. This is a critical issue, especially for cancer that can be prevented or cured when detected early. Women face a distinctive set of healthcare challenges that put them at a higher risk of developing certain conditions and diseases compared to men. Therefore, prioritising women’s health is a matter of utmost concern. One of these is ovarian cancer, where early detection significantly improves the prognosis and chances of successful treatment. On World Ovarian Cancer Day, let us find out why early detection is of utmost importance.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of mortality for women and the primary cause of death for women with gynaecological cancers. With the projected incidence of ovarian cancer in India expected to increase to 49,644 in 2025 from 43,886 in 2020, it is important that ovarian cancer be detected early.
Ovarian cancer originates in a woman’s ovaries, the reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and hormones. The cancerous cells can develop in various parts of the ovary, with the most common type being epithelial ovarian cancer, which forms in the outer layer of the ovary. While the exact causes of ovarian cancer are not yet fully understood, it is believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some known risk factors include age over 50, particularly after menopause, family history of ovarian or breast cancer, genetic mutations, long-term use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause. Women who either haven’t been pregnant before or have had trouble conceiving are also at risk. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, diet, and exposure to environmental agents such as pesticides may also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Also Read: Debunking 7 myths around ovarian cancer
The diagnosis of ovarian cancer involves a combination of physical examinations, imaging tests such as ultrasounds or CT scans, and blood tests to detect cancer markers. There are several commonly used tumour markers that aid in the diagnosis and assessment of response to treatment and monitoring for recurrence.
If these tests indicate the possibility of ovarian cancer, depending on the extent of disease in the CT scan a surgery ( staging laparotomy – if no features of inoperability) or a biopsy (if features of inoperability) is performed to confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, the cancer is staged, ranging from stage I (confined to the ovaries) to stage IV (spread to distant organs). The stage of cancer plays a significant role in determining the appropriate treatment plan and prognosis for the patient.
Also Read: Can you inherit breast or ovarian cancer?
The treatment of ovarian cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health. The primary treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Surgery is often the first step, aiming to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Chemotherapy is then used to kill any remaining cancer cells. Targeted therapy, a newer treatment option, specifically targets cancer cells and may have fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, these treatments can have significant physical and emotional side effects, including hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and fertility issues. Moreover, the cost of treatment can be a significant financial burden for many families, making it difficult to access the care they need. It is crucial to provide support to women going through this journey, both from their healthcare providers and their loved ones.
The importance of early detection of ovarian cancer cannot be overstated, as it significantly improves clinical outcomes and quality of life for women affected by this disease and the chances of successful treatment. When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer can be as high as 92 percent for localised Stage 1 malignant epithelial carcinoma.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage. This is due to its symptoms such as bloating, feeling full quickly, abdominal and pelvic pain, and urinary urgency, which are easily mistaken for other less severe conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or urinary tract infections. Hence, many women do not seek medical attention until the cancer has advanced.
As the cancer progresses, it can spread to other organs within the pelvic and abdominal regions, making treatment more challenging. Early detection allows for less aggressive treatment options, often resulting in fewer side effects and a better quality of life for the patient.
A woman’s journey with ovarian cancer is a challenging and often-emotional one, as it affects not only the individual but also their loved ones. By intervening early and providing preventive treatment, thousands of deaths that usually happen due to ovarian cancer can be avoided. However, due to the lack of reporting of symptoms by women, the treatment gets prolonged and the diagnosis becomes more challenging.
The good news is that ovarian cancer is preventable through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment, which can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life. Let us make sure that “No Woman is Left Behind” this World Ovarian Cancer Day!
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