Ovarian cancer: Early detection is the key

Ovarian cancer in India

Ovarian cancer constitutes the third most common cancer among women in India, after breast and cervix cancer, according to the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP). It contributes to about 6% of total cancer cases among Indian women. About 50% of the total cases occur between 45 – 65 years of age.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a disease that affects the ovaries of women. It refers to the cancerous growth in the ovaries. The reproductive system of a female consists of two ovaries present on each side of the uterus and these are about the size of an almond that produces Ovaa (eggs). They also release sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone.

Ovarian cancer starts in the ovary’s germ, stromal or epithelial cells. Germ cells eventually become eggs, stromal cells are components of the ovary whereas epithelial cells are the outer layers of the ovary. Ovarian cancer is not common but the disease is potentially fatal and causes death when compared to other female reproductive system cancers.

Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer often helps in the successful treatment of the patient. But in most cases, the disease is undiagnosed until it spreads to the pelvic region. Due to the different signs of the disease, every woman with ovarian cancer has a different profile and it is difficult to provide a prognosis. Only early-stage detection can help to cure the disease through surgery and chemotherapy if the disease is confined to the ovaries.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

Early-stage ovarian cancer does not show any symptoms but an advanced stage of this disease may cause few and non-specific symptoms.

1) Abdominal bloating or swelling

2) Loss of appetite or feeling full even after eating a small quantity

3) Loss of weight

4) Pain in the pelvis area

5) Changes in bowel habits, Constipation

6) Frequent visits to the washroom to urinate

7) Back and abdominal pain

8) Vaginal bleeding, unexpected

9) Pain in the pelvis

The symptoms may occur due to a variety of conditions and can be treated easily and go away on their own. However, if any symptoms develop suddenly and prolong more or less daily regardless of initial treatment, consult a doctor immediately as they might be the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer.

What causes ovarian cancer?

The exact cause of Ovarian Cancer is unknown. However, researchers working on ovarian cancer are trying to identify which genetic mutations are responsible for cancer.

Your doctor may ask for your medical history followed by a physical exam, which includes a physical examination of pelvic and rectal areas. One or more blood tests may be needed which are as follows:

1) A complete blood count test.

2) Test for cancer antigen i.e. 125 levels which may be present in ovarian cancer.

3) Test for HCG levels which may be elevated if a tumor is present on a germ cell.

4) Test for alpha-fetoprotein which is develop by germ cell tumors.

5) Test for lactate dehydrogenase levels, these may be elevated if any germ cell tumor is found.

6) Test for inhibin, estrogen, and testosterone levels may be elevated if any stromal cell tumor is found.

7) Liver function tests to determine the spread of the disease in the body.

8) Kidney test to find the obstruction (if any) in your urine flow or spread of disease to the bladder and kidneys.

9) BiopsyA small tissue is taken from the body to determine the cancer cells.

10) Imaging Testssuch as CT scan, MRI, and PET scan.

Early detection is the key

Disability from cancer increases significantly as the disease progresses. The consequences of delays in detection increase the likelihood of death. Identifying possible warning signs of cancer and taking quick action leads to early diagnosis. Early diagnosis is relevant for cancers including ovarian cancer. An early diagnosis identifies cancer at the earliest possible stage compared to screening that tries to find pre-cancerous lesions without symptoms. Screening helps in identifying the disease in women, who do not yet have symptoms.

If you have any family history of ovarian cancer, go for early screening. Specific gene mutations can lead you to develop this disease.

Written by MedPlus