February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
Ovarian cancer is still the deadliest women’s cancer. It is the second most commonly diagnosed gynaecological cancer in Australia. Unfortunately, this has not changed in 30 years. Every day in Australia, four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and three will die from the disease. It could be your mother, your wife, your sister, your friend or even your daughter. This is why it is essential as a woman we all be aware of this disease and the signs and symptoms our body is displaying.
This often-fatal form of cancer occurs in the ovaries. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system and are located on either side of the uterus, or womb. They are almond shaped and approximately two to four centimetres in diameter. The role of the ovaries is to produce ova/eggs, as well as hormones that are involved in the menstrual cycle and fertility.
While cells in our body usually grow in a controlled and organised fashion, when they grow abnormally, they form a growth or a tumour, which can be benign or malignant. Benign tumours are not cancerous and don’t spread, but a malignant tumour, also known as a cancer or carcinoma, will continue to spread in an uncontrolled fashion through the body unless it is treated. Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumour of the ovary.
The causes of ovarian cancer are unknown, but the risk factors include:
Age – ovarian cancer is most common in women over 50 and in women who have stopped menstruating (have been through menopause), and this risk increases with age.
Reproductive history – women who have not had children, were unable to have children, or had children over the age of 30 may be slightly more at risk.
Having endometriosis – a benign (non-cancerous) condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrium) is also found in other areas of the body
Lifestyle factors – such as being overweight or eating a high-fat diet
Hormonal factors – include early puberty, late menopause, or using oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for five years or more.
Family history and genetics – Women who have had breast cancer have an increased risk of ovarian cancer as they can be caused by the same faulty genes.
Ovarian cancer does not have a lot of symptoms early on and can spread fairly quickly to the pelvis and to the stomach. When this occurs, it makes the cancer very difficult to treat successfully. Many of the symptoms aren’t exactly specific, and they include things like loss of weight and lethargic feelings. However, it is very important to pay close attention to the symptoms associated with this disease, so let’s learn all about them!
What are the symptoms?
Pelvic and Abdominal Pain
When a person may be experiencing some of the early symptoms that are linked to ovarian cancer, they will typically have some type of pain in their pelvic area or in their abdomen or stomach. This pain will feel differently than the pain that is associated with menstrual cramping, and does not follow the same cycle. This pain should not be confused with indigestion or heartburn, nor will it feel like a stomach infection. If this sort of pain is persistent for more than a few weeks, schedule an appointment with a doctor to check things out.
Urination can be greatly affected by ovarian cancer. This can include needing to urinate more frequently, or even just feeling the need to urinate, without ever actually needing to “go”. This can also include incontinence, making it often unable to hold in urine when on the way to the bathroom and this can generally come on very quickly. If this goes on for more than ten days, then chances are that this may be more than an infection, especially if the symptoms worsen.
Loss of Appetite
The loss of appetite can be an early symptom of ovarian cancer and, like many of the other symptoms; it may not be directly connected to cancer initially. It could simply be a stomach virus or even anxiety. However, if it is out of character to begin skipping meals or not finishing your favorite dish, then it could very well be an early signal, as ovarian cancer can greatly impact metabolism and the breakdown of foods.
Ovarian cancer can also create gas, as well as impede the release of gas, so this can most definitely be a cause for bloating in the area of the abdomen. This may also create discomfort and feelings of pain. If this problem persists consult your doctor.
Everyone can have indigestion, especially if we have overeaten. However, if you find that you are experiencing heartburn, gas or indigestion, including an upset stomach, more often, especially when it does not seem to be in correlation with what you have eaten, then this could be one of the early warning signs of ovarian cancer.
Lower Back Pain
The type of back pain that is generally associated with ovarian cancer has been described as going from a dull, achy feeling to something that resembles the pain of going through labour. This pain is usually caused from the tumour growth, which may have also spread outside of the ovaries, very commonly between the pelvic bones. If you are experiencing this type of pain best to get it checked out.
Feeling a little fatigue from time to time can be absolutely normal, especially if you are not sleeping well or feeling stressed. However, if this persists, and if you are also losing weight for no apparent reason or are experiencing one of the other symptoms related to ovarian cancer, then you may want to see your doctor.
Pain During Sex
Mild or intense pain that is felt during sexual intercourse can be an early warning symptom of ovarian cancer. If pressure is placed on a tumour during intercourse, it will be uncomfortable and it can also cause vaginal bleeding and sharp, shooting pains. There are various other causes for pain or discomfort during sex, but if you are also experiencing some of the other symptoms, and the pain persists, then an appointment with a doctor would be a healthy decision.
Changes in the Bowel
Constipation and diarrhea may be caused by an ovarian tumour that swells, placing undue pressure on the stomach, the bladder and the bowel. This can also create uncomfortable bloating and even pain. Generally they are due to a stomach virus or infection, but best to check if you have other symptoms of concern.
Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
A quarter of all documented cases of ovarian cancer, say that vaginal bleeding is another symptom and this can be difficult to detect in older women, as spotting can occur during menopause. However, if this bleeding does occur, then you definitely seek expert advice. Other related symptoms that could also occur include sores or blisters in the general area, along with discharge or changes and alterations in the color of the skin.
It’s important to remember that most women with these symptoms will not have ovarian cancer. This is why seeing your doctor is your first port of call and he or she will first rule out the more common causes of your symptoms, but if there is no clear reason for your symptoms, your doctor will refer you to a specialist.
If you are not comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis or you are still concerned about unexplained persistent symptoms, you should seek a second opinion.
You know your body better than anyone else, so always listen to what your body is saying and trust your instincts.
How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
There is no screening test available for ovarian cancer. It is usually detected by a combination of several tests and examinations. The final diagnosis always requires the pathological analysis of a tissue sample.
Physical examination: A general check up, including an internal pelvic examination.
Blood tests: A full blood count may be done and a measure of the blood protein CA 125, which is often raised in women with ovarian cancer. Other special ‘tumour markers’ may also be tested for, but some tumours will not have elevations of these markers and the type of marker depends on the type of tumour.
Imaging tests: Ovarian cancer is usually identified by ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen and pelvis. However, imaging cannot give a definitive diagnosis. A CT scan may see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, but this cannot definitely diagnose ovarian cancer either.
Biopsy: A tissue biopsy is required to diagnose ovarian cancer. This is either done image guided (by ultrasound or CT) or by surgery. The sample is sent to a pathology laboratory where it is analysed under the microscope.
The Stages of Ovarian Cancer:
Ovarian cancer can be classified into four “stages”, depending on the extent of spread of the disease. The “staging” requires an operation to obtain tissue samples, which are then examined under a microscope.
- Stage I: cancer is limited to the ovaries only
- Stage 2: one or both ovaries are affected, as well as other pelvic tissues.
- Stage 3: involves one or both ovaries; the cancer is in the abdominal cavity outside of the pelvis, or there is cancer in the lymph nodes in the pelvis, or around the aorta or in the groin.
- Stage 4: involves one or both ovaries with spread to distant organs such as the liver, lung or distant lymph nodes.
How is it treated?
A gynaecological oncologist (a gynaecologist specialized in treating cancers affecting the female reproductive organs) will discuss the best treatment options with you on a case-by-case basis. However, the most common treatment methods include one or more of the following:
Australian Cancer Research Foundation
Ovarian Cancer Australia
Cancer Council Australia
Getting the right support “YOU” need is very important!
In my practise I work alongside the medical profession, which mean you get the best of both worlds.
I do not diagnose Cancer but I can certainly support you through the emotional rollercoaster and compliment the medical treatment you will be having.
All Cancer treatments have side affects and affect the quality of your life. The main side affects that I see in my practise and support clients with are nausea, diarrhea or constipation, headaches, compromised immune systems, fatigue and emotional distress.
Support is vital with this disease, so if you require some help with the ups and down on your physical and mental wellbeing or have any questions give me a call.
.Creating Life In Health and Wellness
Ph: 0412 999 810
Skype: Kimberley Campbell-Zeltner