Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest gynaecological cancers because there are neither any symptoms specific to it nor any screening tests to diagnose it early. In most cases, women with ovarian cancer present when the disease has spread to other organs.
Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumour in the ovary (the woman’s reproductive organ that releases ova and hormones such as estrogen. It is as common as cancer of the uterus but less common than cervical cancer in Uganda.
About 50% of the women with ovarian cancer are older, at an average age of 59, and have gone through menopause, so their ovaries no longer work.
What exactly causes ovarian cancer is still a mystery: several risk factors have been postulated, with the most important ones being age and having a relative who had ovarian cancer.
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Other risk factors include being obese, having breast cancer, early menarche, and late menopause.
Surprisingly, having children, breastfeeding, and using birth control pills, lower your probability of developing this cancer.
The inability to have specific symptoms and signs that we can rely on to diagnose malignant ovarian tumours early, or even become highly suspicious, makes ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest gynaecological cancers on the planet. However, it does not stop us from citing out a few features you can base on to contact a health care provider in time.
Symptoms are rather vague or mild but include discomfort or a heavy feeling in the lower abdomen, loss of appetite, and weight loss or gain. Others are abnormal periods, back pain, and nausea.
When it comes to evaluating ovarian cancer, medical history, physical examination are the first steps. Imaging tests like ultrasonography can suggest a possibility of cancer. Having a biopsy done is the only way to tell whether the mass in the ovary is cancerous or not. We do this through surgery where we remove a small piece of tissue: send it to the laboratory for analysis.
Through surgery, the doctor can stage cancer (determine its extent and see how far cancer has spread. At times, tumour markers like CA-125 can help in the diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the location and stage of the disease, type of cancer, and age and general health. Surgery is the mainstay of therapy where we remove the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, lymph nodes, and the uterus. Gynaeco-oncologists are the most suitable doctors for this kind of surgery. Other treatment choices include chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Ovarian Cancer:
- DO tell your clinician about relatives with ovarian cancer.
- DO remember, if you have not yet gone through menopause, that removing your ovaries and uterus means that you cannot become pregnant. You will also go into menopause.
- DO ask your clinician about emotional and social support groups in your community.
- DO tell your clinician about medicine side effects.
- DO live a healthy lifestyle.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less fat. Keep to your ideal weight exercises.
- DON’T miss follow-up clinician appointments.
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