2021 is the year we celebrate 20 years of improving support and awareness for ovarian cancer and making incremental progress in care and treatment.
February is Australia’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, to raise awareness of signs and symptoms and to highlight the risk factors for ovarian cancer.
In 2016, 1289 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed in Australian women. The risk of being diagnosed before age 85 is 1 in 85.
In 2018, there were 968 deaths caused by ovarian cancer in Australia.
The five year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 45.7%.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer occurs in female organs(ovary) when cells in one or both ovaries become abnormal, grow out of control and form a lump called a maglignant tumour.
The ovaries are typically a pair of essential organs in the female reproductive system located in each side of the uterus. They produce eggs and hormones
Sometimes an ovarian tumour is diagnosed as borderline (also known as a low malignant potential tumour). This is not considered to be cancer.
Ovarian cancer symptoms
Ovarian cancer can go undetected until it has spread within pelvis and stomach. Often this cancer can be difficult to diagnosed as it has no symptoms in early stages. Here are some symptoms you may experience one or more of the following:
- abdominal bloating
- difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- frequent or urgent urination
- back, abdominal or pelvic pain
- constipation or diarrhoea
- menstrual irregularities
- pain during intercourse
- unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
These symptoms can be caused by other conditions but if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your local doctor.
What causes ovarian cancer?
The causes of most cases of ovarian cancer are unknown, but some factors below can increase the risk include:
- age – risk increases in women over 50 and in women who have stopped having periods (have been through menopause), and the risk increases with age
- genetic factors – up to 20% of serous ovarian cancers (the most common subtype) are linked to an inherited faulty gene, and a smaller proportion of other types of ovarian cancer are also related to genetic faults
- family history – family history of diagnosed with ovarian, breast, bowel or uterine cancers & Ashkenazi Jewish descent
- endometriosis – this condition is caused by tissue from the lining of the uterus growing outside the uterus
- reproductive history – women who have not had children, who have had assisted reproduction, or who have had children over the age of 35 may be slightly more at risk
- lifestyle factors – some types of ovarian cancer have been linked to smoking or being overweight
- hormonal factors – such as early puberty or late menopause. Some studies suggest that menopause hormone therapy (MHT), previously called hormone replacement therapy (HRT), may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, but the evidence is not clear.
Some factors reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. These include having children before the age of 35; breastfeeding; using the combined oral contraceptive pill for several years; and having your fallopian tubes tied (tubal ligation) or removed.
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer
If you are experiencing possible symptoms of ovarian cancer your doctor may suggest several tests or scans to look for cysts, tumours or other changes. These may include:
- In which the doctor will check your abdomen for any lumps and do an internal vaginal examination.
- To check for a common tumour marker for ovarian cancer, CA125.
- A pelvic ultrasound uses echoes from soundwaves to create a picture of your ovaries and uterus.
- A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to take images of the inside of your body to check for cancer and to see if it has spread.
- A PET (positron emission tomography) scan highlights abnormal tissues in the body.
Why regular health checks are important
It is a good idea to visit a doctor regularly, even if you feel healthy. The purpose of these visits is to:
- check for current or emerging medical problems
- assess your risk of future medical issues
- prompt you to maintain a healthy lifestyle
- update vaccinations.
Health checks are usually incorporated into routine medical care. Your doctor will often perform these checks when you are visiting for another condition, such as a cold or another problem. Your doctor will then tell you how often you need to have a health check.
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