What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovaries are the almond-shaped organs located on either side of the uterus. They are part of the female reproductive system and are responsible for producing eggs.
Ovarian cancer refers to a cancerous growth in any part of the ovary.
How Common is Ovarian Cancer?
According to a report published in a leading daily, our country records the highest number of Ovarian cancer cases, globally.
What are the Causes of Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer happens when there’s an abnormal growth of cells and they multiply in an irregular way. Researchers are trying to identify which genetic mutations are responsible for it. However, the exact cause is not known yet.
Who is at a Higher Risk for Ovarian Cancer?
- Family history: Women with close relatives who have had ovarian or breast cancer are at higher risk of developing it.
- Age: Most cases of ovarian cancer occur after menopause and in women above 63. It is rarely an occurrence in women below 40.
- Reproductive history: Women who have had one or more full-term pregnancies, especially by 26 are at a lower risk of ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk.
- Fertility drugs: Fertility drugs have been linked to higher chances of ovarian cancer, especially if a woman consumed them for more than a year without getting pregnant.
- Breast cancer: Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy increases the risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer. The longer the use, the higher the risk.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Women with a BMI of more than 30 or with central obesity are at a higher risk.
- Endometriosis: Women with endometriosis have a 30% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
- Frequent bloating
- Quickly feeling full while eating
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Lower back pain
- Pain during intercourse
- A change in menstruation cycle
- Back pain that worsens
- Vaginal bleeding
- Weight loss or weight gain
How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
Diagnosing ovarian cancer starts with a medical exam and physical history of the patient. The physical exam includes the rectal and pelvic exam.
- CA 125, tumor marker for ovarian cancer is done. Its a type of blood investigation
- A biopsy is done to find out the type of cancer. A small tissue sample is taken for testing, usually done intra-operatively
- Imaging tests like CT scan, PET scan, and USG is done to find out the changes in the ovaries. A CT scan helps in the staging of cancer, i.e. determining at what stage the cancer is at.
- If ovarian cancer is suspected, doctors check how far cancer has metastasized. They do a bone scan or a PET scan for this.
How Can Ovarian Cancer be Treated?
Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the staging of cancer.
Surgery: It is often the first option in early stages which may consist of:
- Hysterectomy with Salpingo-oophorectomy: The uterus and any surrounding tissue are removed. Ovaries and fallopian tubes are also be removed.
- Lymph node dissection: The lymph nodes in the pelvis and near the aorta are removed.
- Cytoreductive or de-bulking surgery: If cancer has spread beyond the pelvic area, then the nearby tissues from other organs are removed. This increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of certain drugs to remove the targeted cancer cells that surgery could not remove.
Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy may be used to prevent estrogen from reaching the cancer cells. This reduces the growth of cancer cells.
Palliative care: Palliative care is given to patients in the later stages of cancer where the focus is on pain management and bettering their quality of life. Steps are taken to help manage the symptoms of cancer rather than the disease itself.It addresses their appetite and sleep problems, along with any anxiety they may be feeling.
Chemotherapy and surgery are mostly done in conjunction.
What are the Complications of Ovarian Cancer?
- Infection: Chemotherapy, a treatment used for treating cancer cells, ends up destroying healthy cells too. This leaves a person vulnerable to infections.
- Infertility and early menopause: Some portions of the reproductive organs need to be removed in surgery, like the ovaries. If both the ovaries are removed, the person cannot get pregnant. It will also result in early menopause.
- Leukemia: Though rare, chemotherapy may damage the bone marrow, resulting in leukemia.
- Kidney damage: Sometimes chemotherapy drugs also cause kidney damage.
- Bleeding and bruising: Cancer treatments may damage your platelets, resulting in prolonged bleeding and bruising.
What are the Lifestyle Changes Required to Manage Ovarian Cancer?
- Quit smoking
- Manage fatigue
- Eat healthy food
- Exercise regularly to boost immunity
- Keep your surroundings clean to reduce your risk of infection
- Seek support
How to Take Care of Someone with Ovarian Cancer?
- Learn how to communicate with your loved one. Ask them what they need.
- Be patient with them as they are already going through a lot.
- Support them in eating right and exercising.
- Take them for regular follow-ups.
- Seek the doctor’s help when in doubt.
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