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What to know about ovarian cancer

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Ovarian Cancer

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition defines ovarian cancer as a disease in which, depending on the type and stage of the disease, malignant (cancerous) cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries.

In a study carried out by the SGMC Cancer Centre, Ovarian cancer was reported as the second commonest (30.5%) with a higher proportion compared to other gynaecological cancers in Nigeria.

Dr. Femi Olaleye is the Medical Director of Optimal Cancer Care Foundation in Surulere, Lagos.

In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, he shed more light on ovarian cancer, it causes and how it can be managed.

What causes ovarian cancer?

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. The risk of developing cancer depends on many things including age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Ovarian cancer may not cause any specific symptoms, particularly in its early stages. When it does cause symptoms, these may be non-specific and vague.

Symptoms are abdominal enlargement or swelling, abdominal fullness, early satiety (feeling full early), changes in bowel or bladder habits, or clothes not fitting well.

Other signs and symptoms can include shortness of breath, leg swelling and pain in the abdomen or pelvis, menstrual irregularities, painful intercourse. Fatigue may be present, but it is considered another non-specific symptom.

Is there any age bracket for ovarian cancer and what are the stages of the disease?

The median age of diagnosis is 63. However, approximately 25% of cases are diagnosed between ages 35 and 54.

Stages of ovarian cancer are Stage 1, which is limited to both ovaries. Stage 2 is limited to the pelvis.

In Stage 3, the disease is outside of the pelvis, but limited to the abdomen, or lymph node involvement, but not including the inside of the liver.

While in Stage 4, the disease is spread to the liver or outside of the abdomen.

What is the difference between ovarian cancer and ovarian cyst?

Ovarian cancer is when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to multiply out of control and form a tumor.

If left untreated, the tumor can spread to other parts of the body, while an ovarian cyst is a collection of fluid or air that develops in or around the ovary.

Most ovarian cysts form as a normal part of ovulation, which is when the ovary releases an egg.

They usually only cause mild symptoms, like bloating, and go away without treatment.

Is it curable and can it come back after it is treated?

In some women with ovarian cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer.

Unfortunately, about 70 percent of all ovarian cancer patients are found at a very advanced stage, stage 3 or 4 and the majority of those, about 80 percent will recur.

So ovarian cancer recurrence is something that most women with ovarian cancer will have to deal with.

Is it hereditary?

Having a family history of ovarian cancer doesn’t mean that a woman must develop the disease.

The cancer could have happened by chance. But women with a mother or sister diagnosed with ovarian cancer have around three times the risk of ovarian cancer compared to women without a family history.

How can ovarian cancer be prevented and what measures should be taken to minimise the risk of the disease?

Taking oral birth control pills. Research has shown that women who take birth control pills have lower odds of developing ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk as well. Pregnancy – increased risk seen in women who delay pregnancy.

Also, surgical procedures on a woman’s reproductive organs (like a tubal ligation or hysterectomy) reduces the risks of such a woman developing ovarian cancer.

What lifestyle changes should women make to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer?

Maintaining a healthy weight, as obesity is a risk factor for ovarian cancer.

Eating a low-fat diet. Pregnancy and breastfeeding are linked to a lower risk of ovarian cancer.

This comes back to how many times a woman ovulates in her lifetime.

Having a hysterectomy or getting the tubes tied.

Removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes reduces chances of developing ovarian cancer.


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