Ovarian cancer – Frequently Asked Questions
In observation of World Ovarian Cancer Day (8th May), the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition answers the most frequently asked questions regarding ovarian cancer.
You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/oncologybuddies
What are the ovaries?
The ovaries are two small organs, each around the size of an almond or your fingertip. They are located low in the tummy area called the pelvis. They are a part of a woman’s reproductive organs, storing her supply of eggs. Each month an egg is released from one of the ovaries and travels through the fallopian tubes into the womb. If the egg is fertilised by a man’s sperm, the woman will become pregnant.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is cancer that arises from the cells in and around the ovaries and fallopian tubes. There are different types of ovarian cancer and each form will behave differently and will sometimes need different types of treatment.
What are the symptoms?
The five most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are: persistent bloating, difficulty eating, feeling full quickly, pelvic/abdominal pain and urinary symptoms. It’s important to seek medical advice if one or more of these symptoms is persistent (meaning they aren’t going away) or they happen a lot.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
The pathway to an ovarian cancer diagnosis generally includes:
- A pelvic exam, where the doctor physically checks for any abnormalities.
- Transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound, a type of ultrasound used by doctors to examine female reproductive organs.
- CA-125 blood test, a test that measures the level of the CA-125 protein in the blood. This protein is found in greater concentration in tumour cells than in other cells of the body.
- In some cases, doctors may also use a CT or PET scan. Both of these involve taking detailed pictures or images of the body through a machine.
- The only way to know for sure if you have ovarian cancer is through a biopsy, where a small sample of cells or tissue from your abdomen is removed and tested in a laboratory.
Why does it generally take so long to get a diagnosis?
Because symptoms of ovarian cancer are often mistaken for other less serious illnesses or the time leading up to and including menopause (change of life when women’s monthly bleeds stop), it can take a long time to get a diagnosis. It’s important to pay attention to any persistent or frequent symptoms and talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
My Pap smear test was clear, does that mean I don’t have ovarian cancer?
No. A Pap smear test only detects cell abnormalities associated with cervical cancer not ovarian cancer, even though the cervix and ovaries are near each other. There is no population wide screening test for ovarian cancer.
Who gets ovarian cancer, and does it run in families?
You can’t catch ovarian cancer from anyone else through close contact. Your risk of developing it increases as you get older, particularly after menopause, although younger women can be affected.
Most cases develop due to changes in your body as you get older. Being overweight or smoking can increase the risk slightly for some less common types of ovarian cancer.
Nearly one in five cases are caused by inherited genetic changes (mutations), which can lead to several members of the same family being at risk of, or affected by, cancer. This not only includes ovarian cancer, but also breast and prostate cancer, and in some families, cancer of the bowel, womb, and pancreas.
While men don’t have ovaries, they can still inherit these altered genes, which means their daughters could be at risk of developing ovarian cancer. If there are members of your close family (blood relatives such as parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, or grandparents) affected by any of these cancers, you should mention it to your doctor.
Can ovarian cancer be prevented?
There is no way to 100% prevent ovarian cancer, but there are steps women can take to reduce their risk. While the following steps may reduce the chances of developing ovarian cancer, it’s important to consider the risks, consequences, and potential side effects they may involve.
- Removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Reducing the number of ovulatory cycles.
- The oral contraceptive pill is known to reduce therisk of developing ovarian cancer by 20% for every five years of use.
What are the treatments for ovarian cancer?
Different types of ovarian cancer may have different treatment options, but in general treatment includes surgery and then chemotherapy. Sometimes the doctor will recommend chemotherapy then surgery.
The World Ovarian Cancer Coalition is the only not-for-profit organization working globally towards a world where every woman with ovarian cancer has the best chance of survival, and the best quality of life – wherever she may live.
This article is sponsored by Accord Healthcare in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the support group’s own work and not influenced by Accord in any way.
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