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Ovarian cancer kills: Watch the signs

Published:Wednesday | May 12, 2021 | 12:09 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. The female reproductive system contains two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries, each about the size of an almond, produce eggs, as well as the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

The cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat. Early-stage ovarian cancer, in which the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully.

According to Dr Ian Bambury, obstetrician/gynaecologist and gynaecological oncologist, each one of the ovaries produces an egg which is important for producing children. The building blocks of the ovary, he said, are called cells, which then form tissues. When there is an abnormal growth of these cells, cancer of the ovary can develop.

Early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms, while advanced-stage ovarian cancer may cause few and non-specific symptoms that are often mistaken for more common benign conditions.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include abdominal bloating or swelling, quickly feeling full when eating, weight loss, discomfort in the pelvis area, changes in bowel habits, such as constipation and a frequent need to urinate.

“Unfortunately, there is no current screening tool to detect ovarian cancer early. However, the first signs of ovarian cancer may include situations in which some women may develop bloating or feeling like the tummy is swollen. Some may feel full easily and others may notice swelling or distension of the abdomen,” Bambury said.

Bambury said the cause of ovarian cancer is not completely understood and most women may develop ovarian cancer without a known risk factor. However, the most common type is seen in older women, hence age is a risk factor. Starting the period early and having a late menopause could contribute, as well as having a family history of breast, colon and ovarian cancer increases the risk.

“The most common types of ovarian cancer are those affecting women over the age of 50 and usually involve the cells that cover the surface of the ovary called the epithelium. When the cells that make up the sex-cord elements of the ovary is affected these are called sex-cord tumours and is seen in a younger age group,” Bambury said.

“There are others that involve the germs cells of the ovary and tend to be seen in a much younger age,” he added.

If your doctor says that you have ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancers, ask to be referred to a gynaecologic oncologist, a doctor who was trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. Gynaecologic oncologists can perform surgery on, and give chemotherapy to, women with ovarian cancer. Your doctor can work with you to create a treatment plan.

“Treatment of ovarian cancer commonly involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. If caught very early, surgery alone may suffice but in most cases chemotherapy is also required. Chemotherapy is usually for about six months and some patients may need longer treatment,” Bambury said.

Ovarian cancer is the number one cause of death in women from a gynaecological cancer and, therefore, is highly lethal. Just about 50 per cent of women survive beyond five years. Ovarian cancer can also be lethal and difficult to manage and can reoccur after initial treatment. “If the disease is caught early a woman can survive. There are others who may have the disease in stable condition and stay on some form of treatment to keep the disease stable,” Bambury said.