WHAT IS OVARIAN CANCER?
Ovarian cancer is cancer arising from the cells in and around the ovaries and fallopian tubes. There are many different types of ovarian tumours, each classified by the types of cells and tissue from which they originate. Every woman in the world is at risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer, and the eighth most common cause of death from cancer in women in the world.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER?
Ovarian cancer symptoms are frequently mistakenly attributed to other causes. The following symptoms can also often be experienced by women without ovarian cancer.
WHAT ARE OVARIAN CANCER RISK FACTORS?
Hover over the risk factors to learn more about them.
Your risk increases as you get older. Ovarian cancer is more common in women aged 50–79. However, younger women can get it too.
Your risk is higher if your family has a history of ovarian, breast, endometrial or colorectal cancer.
Jewish women of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) background have a higher risk.
Your risk is higher if you have certain genetic mutations associated with ovarian cancer, such as BRCA gene mutations.
Your risk is higher if you have not delivered children.
Your risk may be higher if you have taken hormone replacement.
Your risk may be higher if you have a history of a condition called endometriosis.
WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR RISK
The following are some factors that may reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, it is important to consider the other risks which may be associated with them, and to remember that although these factors may lower the risk, they won’t prevent you from developing ovarian cancer.
Having your ovaries and fallopian tubes removed reduces your chances of getting ovarian cancer significantly. However, it does not entirely eliminate all risk, as a rarer form of the disease can develop in the lining of the peritoneal cavity.
It is recognized that an increased number of ovulatory cycles raises the risk of ovarian cancer and conversely a decreased number of cycles (for example during pregnancy and breastfeeding) reduces the risk.
The combined contraceptive pill is known to almost halve the risk of ovarian cancer if taken for five years or more.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM CONCERNED ABOUT FAMILY HISTORY?
Genetic Testing and Counselling:
Individuals with a family history of ovarian, breast or related cancers are encouraged to speak with their doctor to find out if they are eligible for genetic counselling and testing. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with high risks for breast and ovarian cancers. Both genes predispose to breast and ovarian cancer.
Speak to your doctor to find out how to access genetic testing and counselling.
5 FACTS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER
A Pap test (cervical smear test) does not detect ovarian cancer. There is currently no screening test for ovarian cancer.
A Pap test detects pre-cancerous changes to cells of the cervix, which is treated much more successfully than ovarian cancer.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are commonly experienced in the general population. But letting your doctor know how often you are experiencing symptoms is an important step in helping them know when they should consider ovarian cancer as a possible cause. A symptom diary may be helpful. Increased awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer can make a difference.
When ovarian cancer is detected at an early stage – when the cancer remains confined to the ovary – up to 90% of women are likely to survive for more than five years. This compares to 17% surviving five or more years when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. A woman who has symptoms suggestive of ovarian cancer should be referred directly to a specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
If a woman experiences one or more of the following symptoms frequently, it is important that she discuss them with her doctor.
- Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
- Difficulty eating / feeling full quickly
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Needing to pass urine more urgently or more frequently
While these symptoms are often associated with more common and less serious conditions, it is better to check them out.
Ovarian cancer is diagnosed annually in more than 230,000 women globally. It is important to be aware of symptoms, risk factors and your family history on both your father and mother’s side of the family.
SPEAK TO YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER.