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Hilal Her

Ovarian Cancer – Identification of Early Symptoms and, Precautions as Preventive Measures

May 2023

Ovaries are the paired organs present on either side of a woman’s uterus responsible for the production of the ova and major sex hormones regulating her menstrual cycle, fertility and pregnancy. If a woman suffers from ovarian cancer, any of the ovaries’ varied cell types starts growing uncontrollably, thus forming a mass called a tumor. A cancer spotted early saves lives and provides a better chance of being treated successfully. For the longest time ovarian cancer has been called a ‘silent killer’ because of its late diagnosis and, hence, results in fatal outcome. A diagnosis made earlier in the course of the disease not only provides a better prognosis but also various treatment options. According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) report, ovarian cancer detected early has a survival rate of 90%, whereas, late identification lowers the chance of survival to only 28%. The key to timely detection of any disease is the correct identification of its early symptoms. Ovarian cancer shows a variety of very non-specific and vague symptoms which often make women associate them with the normal processes of aging, weight gain, menopause and in some cases a simple stomach upset, therefore, making the diagnosis difficult. It is essential to understand the risk factors, early symptoms, and preventive measures to increase the chances of early detection and treatment.
Risk Factors
Several factors increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer, and some of them are beyond control. The significant risk factors include: age, family history, genetic mutations, endometriosis, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and obesity.
The risk of ovarian cancer increases as a woman gets older, with most cases occurring in women over 50 years old. A family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Inherited mutations in the form of BReast CAncer gene 1 (BRCA1) or BReast CAncer gene 2 (BRCA2) increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Women with a history of endometriosis have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Prolonged use of estrogen HRT increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Women who are obese also have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.



Early Symptoms
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be subtle, and many women may not experience any symptoms in the early stages. However, some of the common early symptoms include:
•    Abdominal bloating or swelling
•    Pelvic pain or pressure
•    Feeling full quickly or difficulty eating
•    Changes in bowel or bladder habits
•    Fatigue
•    Persistent back pain
•    Abnormal vaginal bleeding
It is vital to note that these symptoms are not specific to ovarian cancer and can be caused by other conditions. However, if these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it is essential to seek medical attention and get screened for ovarian cancer.
Precautions and Preventive Measures
While some of the risk factors for ovarian cancer cannot be controlled, there are several precautions and preventive measures that women can include in their lifestyles to reduce their risk of developing the disease. These include:
Oral Contraceptives: Taking oral contraceptives for five or more years can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
Pregnancy: Women who have given birth have a lower risk of ovarian cancer.
Hysterectomy: Women who have undergone a hysterectomy with the removal of both ovaries have a significantly reduced risk of ovarian cancer.
Healthy Diet and Exercise: Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and other cancers.
Genetic Testing: Women with a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer should consider genetic testing to identify any inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
Diagnosis 
Early detection of ovarian cancer is crucial for the successful treatment and improved outcomes. Currently, there is no standard screening test for ovarian cancer, and most cases are diagnosed incidentally during a routine pelvic exam or imaging tests for other medical conditions. However, some tests can help in the early detection of ovarian cancer, including:
Transvaginal Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to create an image of the ovaries and can detect any abnormalities or growths.
Cancer Antigen (CA 125): This blood test measures the level of a protein called CA-125 in the blood, which is often elevated in women with ovarian cancer.
Pelvic Exam: A pelvic exam can detect any abnormalities in the ovaries or surrounding tissues. It is important to note that these tests are not definitive, and a biopsy or surgery may be required to confirm the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. The treatment of ovarian cancer may vary depending on the stage of the cancer, the type of ovarian cancer, the patient’s overall health, and other individual factors. 
Treatment Options
Surgery is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer and involves the removal of the affected ovary, the fallopian tubes, and the uterus. In some cases, the surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes and other tissues. The extent of surgery depends on the stage and type of ovarian cancer.
Chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery and may be administered orally or intravenously. Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The type of chemotherapy, dosage, and duration depend on the stage and type of ovarian cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. This treatment is not commonly used for ovarian cancer, but in some cases, it may be used in combination with chemotherapy.
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to target specific molecules or pathways involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. This treatment may be used in combination with chemotherapy or other treatments.
Hormone Therapy involves the use of hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to slow or stop the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors. This treatment is not commonly used for ovarian cancer, but it may be an option in some cases.
In advanced stages of ovarian cancer, palliative care may be provided to manage symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life. 
Ovarian cancer is a deadly disease that requires early detection and treatment for successful outcomes. Women should be aware of the risk factors, early symptoms, and preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Early detection of ovarian cancer is crucial for successful treatment, and women should seek medical attention if they experience any persistent symptoms. Treatment options for ovarian cancer may vary depending on the stage and type of cancer, and women should work closely with their physician to determine the best course of treatment. HH


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