Three out of four cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed at an advanced stage and unfortunately, the chances of surviving more than five years are less than 50 per cent. For the one out of four cases that are diagnosed at an early stage, the outlook is exceedingly good with as many as 90 per cent of patients being cured.
Currently there are no reliable early detection tests for ovarian cancer, and therefore no screening programs to protect women from late stage diagnosis. A pap test does not detect ovarian cancer.
Early Symptoms Do Exist
Ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and non-specific but they do exist. Abdominal bloating, difficulty eating, unexplained weight gain, constipation, heartburn, severe back pain, urinary frequency and severe fatigue are the most common symptoms. Almost every woman will experience symptoms like these at various times in their lives and in most cases, they are not caused by ovarian cancer. However if you experience some of the symptoms for more than two weeks and they are a change from the normal for you, see your GP.
Known risk factors for ovarian cancer
The incidence of ovarian cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring after the age of 45. However, ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages, including teenagers. Family history can be a valuable indicator of higher risk for some women. One or more close relatives with ovarian cancer, or breast cancer at an early age could indicate an increase in your risk.
Late menopause, infertility and not having children also seem to increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Conversely, having had several children, breast feeding and using the contraceptive pill have all been shown to reduce the risk.
If ovarian cancer is suspected
Your doctor should perform a pelvic examination and if no other cause can be determined for your symptoms, a transvaginal ultrasound examination. This test is very good at showing abnormalities on the ovary.
Your doctor can also order a simple blood test called a CA-125. However, a CA-125 is not very reliable and shouldn’t be the only test, especially if you haven’t been through menopause. If your pelvic examination, ultrasound and/or CA-125 test results suggest that ovarian cancer is a possibility then seek a referral to a Gynaecologic Oncologist as soon as possible. Gynaecologic Oncologists are specialists specifically trained to treat cancers such as ovarian cancer. It has been shown that women with ovarian cancer who are treated by a Gynaecologic Oncologist have better outcomes.
For more information, contact Ovarian Cancer Australia toll-free on 1300 660 334 or visit the website www.ovariancancer.net.au
Source: Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health (www.jeanhailes.org.au)