Busting myths about ovarian cancer: What women must know

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation out there about ovarian cancer, which can delay detection and treatment.

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By Dr Mandeep Singh Malhotra

March is known as World Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and to debunk some common myths about this deadly disease. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, it is the second most common gynecological cancer in India. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of misinformation out there about ovarian cancer, which can delay detection and treatment.

Here are some myths about ovarian cancer that women must know:

Myth 1: Ovarian cancer only affects older women

While ovarian cancer is more common in women over the age of 50, however, it can affect women of any age, including those in their 20s and 30s. In fact, about 15% of ovarian cancer cases occur in women under the age of 50. After 50 yrs ovary is generally redundant, Implications for younger woman are grave as the woman loses her ovary which makes her menopausal much earlier and sterile. Hence, it is important for women of all age groups to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and to consult their doctor if they experience any unusual change in their body.

Myth 2: Ovarian cancer is easy to detect with a Pap smear

Pap smears are designed to detect cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, there is no simple, reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and non-specific, such as bloating, abdominal pain, and urinary urgency. These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, due to which ovarian cancer often remains undiagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to the body and inform the doctor if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms that persist for more than a few weeks.

Myth 3: If you don’t have a family history of ovarian cancer, you’re not at risk

Although the risk is increased if there is a family history of the disease, the majority of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer do not. In fact, inherited genetic mutations are responsible for just 10% of occurrences of ovarian cancer. Other risk factors for ovarian cancer include age, obesity, hormonal factors, and certain medical conditions such as endometriosis.

Myth 4: Ovarian cancer is always fatal

While ovarian cancer can be a deadly disease, it is not always fatal. The survival rate for ovarian cancer depends on the stage at which it is diagnosed. If ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, the five-year survival rate after the diagnosis is over 90%. However, when ovarian cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 30%. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. The major issue with ovarian cancer is that it is generally diagnosed at later stages, therefore has a higher mortality rate.

Myth 5: Having a hysterectomy can prevent ovarian cancer

The surgical removal of the uterus, or hysterectomy, does not prevent ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer can still develop in the ovaries after a hysterectomy. In fact, some women who have had a hysterectomy may be at higher risk for ovarian cancer because they no longer have regular Pap smears or other gynaecological exams that could detect the disease.

Myth 6: Ovarian cancer is a silent disease

Ovarian cancer is frequently referred to as a ‘silent’ disease because its symptoms can be vague and non-specific, but it is not completely silent. Women with ovarian cancer may experience symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and urinary urgency. These symptoms may be mild at first and come and go, but they may become more severe over time.

Raising awareness and detecting ovarian cancer early can be addressed effectively. Women with a family history of breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer should seek expert advice to determine whether they require genomic analysis for the presence of BRCA and associated genes. If they carry the mutation, they can receive intensive surveillance in the form of USG TVS and CA 125 tests. Women nearing menopause can consider undergoing risk-reducing surgery. Angelina Jolie is an excellent example of this form of primary prevention. We have collaborated with US experts to develop specialized software that identifies women who require BRCA and related analyses.

(The author is a Director – Surgical Oncology at the CK Birla Hospital (R), Delhi. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the

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First published on: 28-03-2023 at 08:00 IST