The whispering disease

The whispering disease

About one in 70 women develop ovarian cancer. Dr Reenu Jain talks about this deadly cancer, that can affect just about anybody.

Because there is no reliable diagnostic screening for ovarian cancer, it often goes undetected or is misdiagnosed until it has advanced to the later stages. More than 75 percent of women are diagnosed in the later stages; in fact, only about 19 percent of cases are diagnosed early. The majority of women diagnosed in later stages do not make the five-year milestone. Ovarian cancer does not discriminate. It can affect females of any ethnic background and of any age (girls as young as one have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer).

About one in 70 women develop ovarian cancer, the deadliest of the gynaecologic cancers. Hence, the lack of public awareness and education about the disease is a critical health issue.

Some of the risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
Genetic predisposition: One in five women with ovarian cancer has inherited genetic mutations that increase the risk of the disease. This includes the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which are linked to breast and ovarian cancer.

Family history: A woman’s odds of developing ovarian cancer are higher if a close relative has had cancer of the ovaries, breast, or colon. Women with a strong family history should talk to a doctor to see whether closer medical follow-up could be helpful.

Increasing age: The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age. In fact, most ovarian cancers are known to develop after menopause.

Obesity: It has been noticed that obese women are at a greater risk for ovarian

Do not hesitate to initiate a possibly life-saving discussion about ovarian cancer with your female family members, friends and co-workers, and especially your physician. The more we all know, the better the chance of an early diagnosis and the less risk we have of losing the battle against ovarian cancer.

Although the symptoms of ovarian cancer often are not acute or intense (particularly in the early stages), they are not silent. Once thought to be a ‘silent disease’, 95 percent of patients have vague but persistent symptoms.

Following symptoms are likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer:

Abdominal bloating
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Difficulty in eating or feeling full quickly
Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Weight loss

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer may include extreme fatigue, indigestion, heartburn or upset stomach, lower back and/or leg pain, change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea), menstrual irregularities and shortness of breath. See your doctor if any combination of these symptoms persists for more than two weeks.

There is no easy or reliable way to test for ovarian cancer if a woman has no symptoms. However, there are two ways to screen for ovarian cancer during a routine gynaecologic check up. One is a blood test for elevated levels of a protein called CA-125. The other is an ultrasound of the ovaries. If suspected, surgery should be performed by a gynaecologic oncologist, a specialist trained in cancers of the female reproductive system. The goal is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Ovarian cancer is not “silent” but women must “listen” to their bodies in order to recognise the signs of the disease that whispers.

(The author is consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology,
Jaypee Hospital, Noida.)


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