What is Ovarian Cancer? 

Last week was ovarian cancer week. It was shocking to read how many women are affected by it.  Just last year my eldest daughter was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This was a terrible shock for her and for us. Fortunately, the cancer was detected early and the following surgery to remove the cancer was successful and she is now fit and well. I am writing this blog to hopefully create more awareness about ovarian cancer. Without early detection, the survival rate is not good.

So, what is Ovarian cancer?  It is cancer that forms in or on an ovary.  Resulting in abnormal cells that invade or spread to other areas of the pelvis. Often lying undetected as women are not aware of the symptoms. Early detection of ovarian cancer is essential for successful treatment.

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Ovarian Cancer in New Zealand?

One woman dies of ovarian cancer every 48 hours in New Zealand.   Out of the 5 gynaecological cancers, ovarian cancer has the highest rate of deaths. Late detection is often the cause of low survival rates. It is not something that is regularly looked for and surprisingly 90% of women do not know the signs and symptoms!  As a result, Ovarian cancer is killing New Zealand women at an alarming rate and we need to educate and make women aware of this. Early detection is vital to survival. Know the signs and symptoms and educate yourself and others. Please share this blog so that you help educate your friends and family. In doing so you will be saving lives. 

What are the symptoms?

  • increased abdominal size / persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes 
  • fatigue 
  • pain during sex 
  • frequent need to urinate or an urgency to go 
  • change in bowel habits (loose stools/constipation is a VERY common symptom) 
  • abdominal or pelvic pain 
  • back pain/aches 
  • menstrual irregularities 
  • indigestion 
  • unexplained weight loss or weight gain 

Ovarian Cancer types

The different types of ovarian cancers get grouped by the kind of cell they start from.  

  1. Epithelial ovarian cancer: this starts in the epithelium (the cells that cover the ovary). Nine out of ten ovarian cancers are epithelial. 
  2. Germ cell and sex-cord stromal cell ovarian cancers: both these types are uncommon. 
  3. Sex-cord stromal cell cancers start in the cells that make female hormones. (These can happen at any age.) Germ cell and sex-cord cancers respond well to treatment. If only one ovary has cancer, it may still be possible for younger women to have children after treatment. 
  4. Borderline tumours are a group of epithelial tumours which have a lower risk of spreading than other types of tumours. 

Risk factors

The causes of most ovarian cancers are unknown. However, some things put you more at risk of getting ovarian cancer. 

  • being Caucasian (white) and residing in a western country with a high standard of living. 
  • having no or few pregnancies is a risk. However, taking the contraceptive pill for a number of years seems to keep the risk down. The reason is uncertain but may relate to the number of eggs released (fewer eggs less risk). 
  • some types of cancers are linked with a family history of cancers of the ovary, bowel, breast and lining of the uterus. A small number of ovarian cancers are caused by inheriting an altered gene from a parent. If there are other people in your family with ovarian, breast, bowel or uterine cancer you should discuss this with your doctor. 
  • being overweight has been linked to a higher risk of developing most cancers. 
  • If you have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may also have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. 
  • The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age 

What are the treatments?

Surgery and chemotherapy. If detected early the cancerous cell will be removed with surgery. Depending on how advanced the cancer is will depend on how long the surgery takes. However, if cancer has spread you may need to have chemotherapy.  Sometimes it is not possible to remove all cancer. The more of cancer that can be removed, the better the outlook for the patient. The less cancer present, the easier it is for chemotherapy to kill off any cancer cells left behind. So it stands to reason that early detection is vital.

To reduce the risk of getting ovarian cancer you can try the following

Eat a balanced healthy diet goes without saying for any cancer. 

Be physically active 

Limit red and processed meat 

Limit sugary foods and drinks 

Be smoke-free 

Use organic lubricants and tampons

Ask your doctor whether birth control pills may be right for you. Women using oral contraceptives may have a reduced risk. But oral contraceptives do have risks, so discuss whether the benefits outweigh those risks based on your situation. Above all talk to your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms and are concerned.  

For more information follow the links below to the New Zealand cancer society page. They have good detailed information and where to find support. There is also a very active group called talk peach who are creating awareness of all gynaecological cancers.

Cancer NZ

Talk peach

This blog is dedicated to my daughter who is an ovarian cancer survivor.

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