Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Ovarian cancer is also known as ‘the silent killer’ as its signs and symptoms are often confused with other health conditions. With that being said, ovarian cancer awareness is still relatively low in the UAE. As a result of this lack of awareness, Dr. Maroun Khoury, consultant oncologist at American Hospital Dubai, states that nearly 45% of patients who have ovarian cancer may succumb to the disease within five years.
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Although more studies are needed for a more accurate statistic, it is suggested that there are over 100 to 150 new cases of ovarian cancer in the UAE per year. Like all other cancers, it is important to be aware of the signs, symptoms, and causes of ovarian cancer and the importance of getting regular screenings with your doctor.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
The ovaries are small organs that are located on each side of the uterus. The ovaries are responsible for producing eggs. Ovarian cancer occurs when cancer cells develop on any part of the ovaries. The cancer cells can start in the ovaries germ, stromal or epithelial cells.
Once the cancer cells begin to spread cancer will grow to other parts of the body, which medical professionals can identify in stages. Medical professionals will determine the stage of ovarian cancer based on three factors:
- the size and growth rate of the tumour
- If the tumour has spread into tissues of the ovary or other nearby tissues
- Whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body
The four stages of ovarian cancer are:
- Stage 1 – Cancer is present in one or both ovaries
- Stage 2 – Cancer spreads onto the pelvis
- Stage 3 – Cancer has spread onto the abdomen region
- Stage 4 – Cancer has spread outside of the pelvis, abdomen and into other organs
The early stages of ovarian cancer will often not show any noticeable symptoms, hence making it had to identify. However, over time, symptoms can become more apparent, although often mistaken for other health complications. They include:
- Loss of appetite or feeling full when eating little
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Pain or discomfort in the abdomen or pelvic region
If these symptoms go away over time, then it may be the result of another health complication. If these symptoms persist and don’t seem to go away, it may be the result of ovarian cancer.
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer also include:
- Lower back pain
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Change in the menstrual cycle
- Vaginal bleeding
- Increased acne development
If any of these symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Genetics – Those with a family history of ovarian cancer or cancer, in general, have a higher chance of getting the disease.
- Medical history – If you have had reproductive complications or have taken medication for it in the past, it may increase the chances of developing ovarian cancer. Women who have used birth control are at a lower risk of ovarian cancer. However, women who have used fertility drugs are at a higher risk of developing it.
- Age – Ovarian cancer is more likely to occur in older women and is rarely diagnosed in women under the age of 40.
- Reproductive history – Women who have been pregnant in the past are less likely to develop ovarian cancer, while women who have had children are at a higher risk of developing it.
- Weight – Women who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
The treatments of ovarian cancer will depend on your health condition, history, as well as the stage of cancer that you fall under. The treatments for ovarian cancer will also depend on whether you plan to have children in the future.
Surgery is often the most common treatment for ovarian cancer, as is with most other types of cancer. The surgeon will try to remove the infected tissue cells that contain cancer. Your doctor will also have to take a scan and biopsy test to locate where the affected areas are and if cancer has spread to other tissue cells of the body.
The extensiveness and type of surgery will also depend on whether you still plan to have children in the future, so be sure to communicate this with your doctor.
Chemotherapy is also a common treatment for ovarian cancer. This medication is administered intravenously or through the abdomen. This is called intraperitoneal treatment. Side effects of chemotherapy include vomiting, nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.
Chemotherapy is most effective during the early stages of cancer. Other treatments of ovarian cancer also include radiation therapy which entails the use of high-energy X-ray beams to kill off existing cancer cells.
Ovarian cancer is extremely hard to prevent as most people mistake it for minor health complications, making early intervention unlikely. Once it has progressed into its advanced stages, treatment becomes difficult. Although there is no exact way to prevent ovarian cancer, doctors have stated that avoiding risk factors of ovarian cancer may lower the risk including
- Taking birth control pills
- Giving birth
- Tubal ligation
If you notice any of the signs, symptoms, or notice any irregularities in your health, play it safe and speak with your doctor.
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