A woman often puts the health of her family before her own. Many times this causes them to put off her health care because they are busy taking care of her family members. This is one of the reasons why the needle in diagnosing late-stage cancer, around the world, is pointed more toward women. This is a critical issue, especially for cancer that can be prevented or cured when caught early. Women face a distinctive set of health care challenges that put them at higher risk of developing certain conditions and diseases compared to men. Therefore, prioritizing women’s health is a matter of utmost concern. One of them is ovarian cancer, where early detection significantly improves the prognosis and the chances of treatment success. On World Ovarian Cancer Day, let’s find out why early detection is so important.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of death among women and the leading cause of death among women with gynecologic cancers. As the projected incidence of ovarian cancer in India is expected to rise to 49,644 in 2025 from 43,886 in 2020, it is important that ovarian cancer is detected early.
What increases the risk of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer originates in a woman’s ovaries, the reproductive organs responsible for producing eggs and hormones. Cancer cells can develop in various parts of the ovary, with the most common type being epithelial ovarian cancer, which forms in the outer layer of the ovary. While the exact causes of ovarian cancer are not yet fully known, it is believed to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some known risk factors include being over the age of 50, particularly after the menopause, a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, genetic mutations, long-term use of hormone replacement therapy after the menopause. Women who have not been pregnant before or who have had trouble conceiving are also at risk. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, diet, and exposure to environmental agents such as pesticides can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Also read: Debunking 7 myths about ovarian cancer
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer involves a combination of physical exams, imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scans, and blood tests to check for markers of cancer. There are several commonly used tumor markers that aid in the diagnosis and evaluation of response to treatment and control of recurrence.
If these tests suggest the possibility of ovarian cancer, based on the extent of disease on the CT scan, surgery (staging laparotomy, if there are no inoperable features) or biopsy (if there are inoperable features) is performed to confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, cancer is classified into stages, from stage I (limited to the ovaries) to stage IV (spread to distant organs). The stage of the cancer plays an important role in determining the appropriate treatment plan and prognosis for the patient.
Also read: Can breast or ovarian cancer be inherited?
Ovarian cancer treatment
Treatment of ovarian cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, as well as the general health of the patient. Primary treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Surgery is usually the first step, with the goal of removing as much of the cancer as possible. Chemotherapy is then used to kill any remaining cancer cells. Targeted therapy, a newer treatment option, specifically targets cancer cells and may have fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, these treatments can have significant physical and emotional side effects, including hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and fertility problems. Additionally, the cost of treatment can be a significant financial burden for many families, making it difficult to access the care they need. It is crucial to provide support to women going through this journey, both from their health care providers and their loved ones.
Early detection is key to reducing the risk of ovarian cancer
The importance of early detection of ovarian cancer cannot be underestimated, as it significantly improves clinical outcomes and quality of life for women affected by this disease and the chances of successful treatment. When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer can be as high as 92 percent for localized stage 1 malignant epithelial carcinoma.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage. This is due to its symptoms, such as bloating, feeling quickly full, abdominal and pelvic pain, and urinary urgency, which are easily confused with other less serious conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or urinary tract infections. Therefore, many women do not seek medical attention until the cancer has advanced.
As the cancer progresses, it can spread to other organs within the pelvic and abdominal regions, making treatment difficult. Early detection allows for less aggressive treatment options, often resulting in fewer side effects and a better quality of life for the patient.
The journey of a woman with ovarian cancer is challenging and often emotional, as it affects not only the person but also their loved ones. By intervening early and providing preventative treatment, thousands of deaths that typically occur due to ovarian cancer can be prevented. However, due to women’s underreporting of symptoms, treatment is prolonged and diagnosis becomes more challenging.
The good news is that ovarian cancer is preventable through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment, which can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life. Let’s make sure “No Woman Left Behind” this World Ovarian Cancer Day!