By Dr Niti Raizada
Ovarian Cancer, the “Silent Killer”,is a cancer which begins in the female organs which produce eggs known as the ovaries. Ovary Cancer is the third common cancer amongst women in India with 46,000 new cases each year. It’s also a cancer with very subtle signs and symptoms. Family history of cancer forms as important part of evaluation.
Ovarian Cancer poses a challenge as when the cancer is contained to the ovaries, it is easiest to treat. Unfortunately at this earliest stage patients do not have any symptoms. Symptoms, when they appear, may be subtle and vague, like abdominal bloating, change in bowel habits, indigestion. There may be accompanied weight loss and fatigue. Later when free fluid accumulates in abdomen (Ascites), pelvic discomfort increases, backache worsens, apart from bloating. Increased frequency of urination is also an accompanying symptom.
But first, how can we reduce the risk of Ovarian Cancer?
1. Diet & Exercise
Weekly exercise regime and a healthy diet are important ways of reducing the risk of ovarian cancer. Having plenty of fruits, vegetables and food rich in Vitamin D are some of the dietary measures. Active exercise ie, working out for 30-40 minutes every day, one can reduce your risk by up to 20%. Ensure an active lifestyle. Activity is a good habit to have to prevent cancers in general.
2. Oral Contraceptives
Oral contraceptiveshave a protective effect on women. Studies have shown that it reduces the risk of development of Ovarian cancer by as much as 50%! However do not take them unsupervised and do meet your Gynaecologist for advise, especially for long term usage.
3. Avoiding Carcinogens
Carcinogens are substances that is capable of causing cancer. Some substances such as talcum powder(baby powder, vaginal deodorants and makeup) is best avoided as there are some circumstantial evidence implicating them. More studies are underway to confirm cause- association.
4. Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Women who have birthed at least one child, especially before the age of 30, have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer and even breast cancer. Breastfeeding is also known to lower the risk.
5. Healthy Lifestyle
Avoiding the use and exposure of tobacco products can not only lower your risk for ovarian cancer, but many other type of cancers as well. Along with it, limiting your alcohol consumption is best. Avoiding tobacco and limiting your alcohol consumption, as well as following the above tip to exercise daily and maintain a healthy diet can decrease your risk of ovarian cancer.
6. Genetic Link
Some ovarian cancers are linked to genetic changes and run-in families with several cases of breast and ovarian cancer. One such important mutation is called BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2). Identifying such families and their genetic risks will help implementing risk-reduction strategies.
Only 15-20% of Ovarian Cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, and it is important to identify high risk groups which can be subjected to screening for ovarian cancer. These screening methods include a trans-vaginal ultrasound and serum Ca125(blood test). Screening tools are generally chosen which are relatively noninvasive and require light infrastructure.
Advanced Ovarian cancers have worse outcome. However, several new scientific developments are increasingly changing the scenario in a promising way with introduction of newer targeted agents and use of immunotherapies in some areas. Pathbreaking drug discoveries with newer targets are also underway and so we rise at the dawn of a new era in oncology.
(The author is a Senior Director, Medical Oncology & Hemato Oncology, Fortis Group of Hospitals, Richmond Road, Bangalore. 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 FinancialExpress.com.)