According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer accounts for only about 3% of all cancers in women, but remains the fifth leading cause of cancer- related death among women in many countries. Among the deaths caused by cancer in the female reproductive system, ovarian cancer is the highest. Despite being infrequent, the high mortality rate has been attributed to two main causes: the lack of early symptoms and effective screening tests. Ovarian cancer is notorious for not being detected in cervical screening tests.
Silent Killer or Evil Whisper?
Numerous articles will tell you that ovarian cancer is a “silent killer,” a disease without symptoms that can only be detected when it is too late to intervene. However, according to scientific research, ovarian cancer “can” be detected early. Contrary to popular belief, it could be a disease that gives early signs, rather than signals: “whispers.” What makes these signs difficult to decipher is that the same symptoms are often caused by common ailments such as gastrointestinal problems, bladder infections and irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, studies suggest that almost half of women will develop symptoms at least three months before diagnosis. However, these symptoms are often so vague that they may not even appear to be related to a gynecological problem. Almost 94% of women have lived more than five years after diagnosis when ovarian cancer was detected in time. This means that being vigilant is vital.
Early Signs and Symptoms:
Let’s take a look at some symptoms that we should consider:
1. Abdominal Pain:
Persistent pain in the stomach or pelvis is one of the main symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Bloating can typically occur due to indigestion or PMS (pre menstrual syndrome). But do not take it lightly if that feeling does not disappear. If the swelling around the abdomen persists for more than three weeks, or if your clothes no longer fit around the waist, consult a doctor immediately.
3. Weight Loss:
“One of the most common symptoms, and often the first noticeable signs of cancer, is weight loss”.
At the time of diagnosis, almost 40% of people with cancer report unexplained weight loss. This could be due to several reasons, such as changes in the immune system, loss of appetite, constipation or even pain due to cancer.
4. Feeling Full Without Having Eaten Much:
Known in medical terms as “early satiety,” this is the inability to eat a normal-sized meal. It could be because you feel full after eating too little or feel nauseous while trying to eat the amount you consume regularly. Typically, this is a common symptom associated with other conditions such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), peptic ulcers or intestinal obstruction.
5. Need to Urinate Frequently:
This is often misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection. But if an infection has not been detected and symptoms persist, consult an obstetrician / gynecologist immediately.
6. Changes in Bowel Habits:
With constipation, stool tends to be dry and hard, making it difficult to evacuate. Bowel movements also occur infrequently. This common sign of cancer is often related to tumors in the abdomen. Other important symptoms to consider include: extreme fatigue, pain during sexual intercourse, low back pain and menstrual irregularities. You cannot emphasize enough that the presence of these symptoms does not mean that you have ovarian cancer. However, consult an obstetrician / gynecologist as soon as possible if these symptoms are:
- New: They are not normal for you or have you noticed them recently, in the last year.
- Common: They occur for more than 12 days a month.
- Persistent: They do not disappear.
Although there is currently no way to predict whether someone will suffer from ovarian cancer, women with a certain genetic makeup, hereditary factors or medical conditions are more susceptible.
1. Genetic Factors:
The breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and the breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2) are responsible for approximately 10-15% of all ovarian cancers. Women with hereditary colorectal cancer without polyposis (HNPCC), another hereditary syndrome (more commonly known as Lynch syndrome), have approximately a 12% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer. Women with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome have a 10-44% risk.
2. Family History:
Family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer and uterine cancer are associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The lifetime risk of a woman who has an immediate relative with ovarian cancer is 5%, while that of an average woman for life is 1.4%.
3. Increase in Age:
Ovarian cancer rates are higher in women aged 55 to 64 and are typical of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. The frequency only increases with age.
4. Reproductive History and Infertility:
The risk of getting ovarian cancer seems to be related to menstrual cycles, childbirth and infertility. Some factors include:
- Early onset of menstruation (before age 12)
- Not having experienced childbirth
- Having the first child after age 30
- Go through menopause after age 50
- Never have taken oral contraceptives
- Infertility, regardless of the use of fertility drugs
5. Hormone Replacement Therapy:
In women who have not had a hysterectomy, hormone therapy using estrogen with a combination of progestin for more than five years significantly increases the risk of ovarian cancer. For women who have had a hysterectomy, the use of estrogen for more than ten years increases the risk.
Those who consume a high-fat diet or have a BMI of 30 or more are at greater risk of getting ovarian cancer.