Recently veteran actress Nafisa Ali took to social media to announce heart-breaking news of her being diagnosed with Stage 3 Ovarian and Peritoneal Cancer. Teresa Diaz-Montes, MD, associate director of the Lya Segall Ovarian Cancer Institute at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore says that ovarian cancer is one of the most feared gynecologic cancers and calls it the ‘silent killer’. The signs and symptoms of this cancer do not show up until the advanced stages. There are also no particular screening tests to detect this cancer. “The majority of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer present with advanced-stage disease,” says Diaz-Montes. “For these women, survival is less than 30% at 5 years.” However, she also adds that when detected early ovarian cancer is treatable but here are some ways you can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and increase the chances of survival.
1. Don’t ignore any symptom
The symptoms that might later lead to ovarian cancer are quite subtle and confusing, to say the least. However, the four key symptoms that you should never ignore and visit a doctor soon are:
- Constant abdominal bloating that continues for more than 3 months
- Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
- Incontinence and unexplained change in bowel habits
- Smaller appetite or feeling full after minimal eating
2. Pap smears don’t help to detect
Cervical cancer can be detected with Pap smear test but this is not the case with ovarian cancer. It is often believed that a transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125 test can effectively detect ovarian cancer but unfortunately both of these tests are flawed. Ovarian Cancer is much more than just an ultrasound. The American Cancer Society says there are actually “no reliable screening tests” for ovarian cancer if a woman is having no symptoms or not at a high-risk.
3. Family history increases the risk
Do you have a family history of ovarian cancer? And it is not just ovarian cancer, if a female member or a close female relative of your family had ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer, make sure that your doctor knows about it.
4. Your lifestyle choice matters
We all know that lifestyle affects the development and growth of cancer cells. A poor lifestyle is the feeding ground for cancer. Choose a low-fat healthy diet, don’t choose to give birth at a later age and use hormonal birth control pills. You might also talk to your doctor and choose a preventive surgery to remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
5. Know the risk factors
Besides family history, there are several risk factors for ovarian cancer:
- If you have never been pregnant or experienced uninterrupted ovulation due to infertility treatments
- An early onset of the period or a late menopause.
- Using talcum powder in the genital area
- Smoking increases the risk of ovarian cancer
There is hope for successful treatment of ovarian cancer in the near future as new drugs and modes of treatments are constantly tested in clinical trials. Once you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, treatments start with a surgery that involves removal of both the fallopian tubes and ovary. This might be followed by chemotherapy.
Be aware of ovarian cancer and protect yourself and your family!