flickr_gabriel_delgado_ribb.jpgTeal is once again in season. Designated as the official color for ovarian cancer awareness, teal and the iconic little teal ribbon, serve as reminders for women to know what they can about the disease.  FN wants to take part in the ongoing effort to educate women about ovarian cancer by giving the lowdown on the disease.


WHAT IS IT?

According to the US National Cancer Institute, cancer starts when cell regeneration goes awry. When old cells refuse to die and new but unnecessary ones keep popping up, they form a mass known as tumor. Tumors are divided into two kinds. The virtually harmless ones are called benign tumors and, in most cases, can be removed without difficulty. However, the other kind known as malignant tumors, can take on a life of its own by spreading to and attacking other tissues and organs. The formation of malignant tumors in one or both of the ovaries causes ovarian cancer. The Department of Health states that it's the 5th most common cancer among women. PinayinAction.com adds that in 2005, there were around 3,283 new cases for ovarian cancer in the Philippines.


WHAT CAUSES OVARIAN CANCER?

There is no one clear explanation on how ovarian cancer begins. According to MayoClinic, some researchers think that it is connected to the tissue-repair process that follows ovulation. However, a series of risk factors were released to serve as a warning. It is worth noting that these risk factors are do not seen cause ovarian cancer, but rather are seen to contribute to the occurrence of the disease. Take a look at our list of risk factors below:

a. Family history - Women who have blood relatives diagnosed with ovarian cancer have an increased risk for it as well. EMedicineHealth.com says that there is a 3 to 5 percent risk for women who have a first-degree relative with ovarian cancer, and that number can reach as high as 50 percent if two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed with the disease. The US Cancer Institute suggests genetic testing for women who fall into this danger zone to show genetic changes that increases such risk.

b. Personal history - Women who have, or had breast, uterus, colon, or rectal cancer have a higher risk of contracting ovarian cancer.

c. Age - PinayinAction.com reports that incidences of ovarian cancer rise steeply in women starting at age 40. Doctors often say that early detection is a big factor in the battle against cancer, so it would be prudent to start being tested before this age.


WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?


The thing about ovarian cancer is that symptoms do not become evident until late in the disease. According to the DOH, "ovarian cancers are usually asymptomatic at the outset and many cases are detected late."  Regular checkups are necessary in detecting the disease as most of the symptoms can actually be mistaken for something else. Keeping a “symptom journal” where you can list what the Mayo Clinic calls "persistent and worsening signs and symptoms" can help your doctor in identifying which symptoms are normal and which ones aren’t.

(Photo by Gabriel Delgado via Flickr Creative Commons; teal ribbon by MesserWoland via Wikimedia Commons)


flickr_samae_ribbonl.jpgBelow is a list symptoms associated with ovarian cancer that can serve as a guideline:

•    Abnormal collection of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
•    Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating despite eating small amounts of food
•    Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
•    Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
•    Low back pain
•    Menstrual changes
•    Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
•    Pelvic discomfort or pain
•    Persistent lack of energy
•    Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
•    Unexplained changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
•    Unusual vaginal bleeding (heavy periods, or post- menopausal bleeding)
•    Urinary urgency and/or frequency


HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?

As there are tons of symptoms for ovarian cancer, doctors suggest various examinations for diagnosis:

1.    Pelvic Examination – Ovarian cancer is usually detected through the presence of a mass in the abdomen, usually spotted during a pelvic examination. As such, DOH advises women who are 40 years old and above to have pelvic examinations yearly.

2.    Physical Examination – As listed above, one of the symptoms for ovarian cancer is ascites, the abnormal fluid build-up in the abdomen. During a physical exam, doctors press on the abdomen to check for ascites or tumors.

3.    Blood tests – Blood tests can reveal the presence of CA-125, a chemical that may show up in significant levels for patients with ovarian cancer. However, the presence of CA-125 can confirm the presence of other conditions as well, so it’s not used alone for ovarian cancer diagnosis.

4.    Ultrasound – We normally associate ultrasound for checking the sex of our babies, but it is also used to check for tumors in the ovaries.

5.    Biopsy – Your doctor may opt to take a tissue sample to test for the presence of cancer cells.
While there are several ways of checking for ovarian cancer, doctors recommend yearly check ups to keep tabs on your health. 

WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE TREATMENTS?

While ovarian cancer is not easily diagnosed, early detection leads to high success rates for patients. OvarianCancerAwareness.org encouragingly states that “if detected at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is more than 93%.” For the early stages of ovarian cancer, the DOH suggests that surgery is curative. This procedure would mean the removal of ovaries as well as the fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum (the intestines’ fatty lining), nearby lymph nodes and tissue samples from the pelvis and abdomen. The US National Cancer Institute suggests that women who have Stage I ovarian cancer can discuss options with their doctors so that child-bearing may still be possible.

The DOH adds that a combination of chemotherapy and surgery “may increase survival” for patients who are in the late stages of ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy makes use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells, and can be done orally, or through Intravenous (IV) therapy where a thin tube is inserted into a vein to deliver the drug.

Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) is rarely used among the three treatment methods.

We are optimistic that scientific progress will lead to better technologies that help detect, and ultimately cure, ovarian cancer.  Be inspired as FN readers share encouraging stories on surviving ovarian cysts here.

(Photo by Samael Krutz via Flickr Creative Commons; teal ribbon by MesserWoland via Wikimedia Commons)

Read on about cancer awareness in these articles on Female Network:

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