“I think cancer helps to transform a person… It affected me so much that it enabled me to grow, appreciate life and honor my body.” Says Manisha Koirala, while talking about her ovarian cancer that was diagnosed in 2012. There is very less awareness about ovarian compared to the breast cancer in India. Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries of women and most of the times; the increase in abdominal area is looked over. The symptoms are very hard to see and non-specific. Thus, the diagnosis happens at a stage when the cancer is hard to treat.
There are some early signs of ovarian cancer; like these mentioned below –
- Pain and pressure in abdomen and it’s bloating.
- Having trouble while eating and feeling full shortly after eating.
- Increased urge of urinating and increased frequency.
Above symptoms do not necessary mean that the cancer is present, however, it is recommended to get the checkup done if those persist for more than a month.
Now let us see some common causes attributed to ovarian cancer.
Inherited faulty genes
Most of the ovarian cancers are due to the genetic changes that occur in woman’s body during her lifetime and not necessarily inherited. Around 1 in 10 ovarian cancers are result of inherited gene mutation. These genes include BRCA1 & BRCA2 which are also responsible for increased risk of breast cancer.
The risk of developing ovarian cancer is more if you have close relatives (mother, sister, or daughter) who had ovarian or breast cancer. However, if they were less than 50 years of age at the time of cancer diagnosis, it is possible that their cancer was because of inherited faulty genes.
There are many genetic tests available which help to know your genetic make-up and family history. It also detects your risk for ovarian cancer.
Previous breast cancer
Sometimes, same set of faulty genes is responsible for breast as well as ovarian cancer. i.e. women who earlier had breast cancer have more risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to general women population. If the diagnosis of breast cancer was before 40 years of age, the risk is four-fold.
If you had breast cancer before 40 and have a family history of ovarian cancer, you have 17 times the average risk of ovarian cancer.
If you think you may have a faulty gene, you can speak to your GP. There is more information about screening for ovarian cancer in this section.
Some studies have linked fertility drugs to an increased risk of ovarian cancer, but recent studies do not support this. But there is a risk of ovarian tumours in infertile women who have been treated with IVF; however, infertility increases the risk of ovarian cancer more rather than its treatment.
Hormone replacement therapy
Combined HRT is considered as one of the causes for ovarian cancer. A study observed that women using HRT for a few years were having more risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who had never used it. The risk is very low compared to the other causes.
- Using IUD
IUD means intra uterine device. It is one of the birth control measures used by females. A study has shown that women who use a coil (IUD) have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, but the risk is still small.
Checking BMI (Body Mass Index) in regular intervals is important. BMI shows if you are obese or underweight compared to your height. A study in 2008 stated the risk of being overweight for premenopausal & postmenopausal women. It was observed that premenopausal women with more than 30 BMI had a risk of ovarian cancer, but postmenopausal women had none. It is also found in a research that taller women have more risk of ovarian cancer than shorter women.
Research has shown that women with endometriosis have an increase in their ovarian cancer risk compared to women who do not. Endometriosis is a disease in which a tissue that generally grows inside the uterus grows outside it.
It is a proven fact that smoking causes many hazards- including lung cancer. However, it also has a role in ovarian cancer. A research showed an increased risk of mucinous ovarian tumours in smokers. However, the risk was back to normal after the smoking was stopped.
Though the effect of diet on ovarian cancer is not yet highly established, studies show that diet high in animal fats may lead to ovarian cancer.
It is said that prevention is always better than cure. Thus, here are a few tips important for the prevention of ovarian cancer.
– High level of blood calcium level means increased risk of ovarian cancer- make sure to get it monitored regularly.
– Contraceptive pills reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women and also protect them from the disease even 30 years after they discontinue the medication.
– Women with family history of any cancer should never ignore any of the above mentioned symptoms.
– Hysterectomy reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by about one-third.
No matter what, screening is absolutely important. It not just screens for the cancer but many other genetic disorders and also helps you to take the necessary measures.