Worldwide, ovarian cancer is reported to be the eight among the common cancers in women. In countries like Singapore, the prevalence is quite higher as it ranks 5th among the cancers suffered by women in the country. Cancer happens when cells of the body grow abnormally and then spread uncontrollably. And in the case of ovarian cancer, the abnormal (cancer) cells start to grow in the ovaries (the main and vital part of the female reproductive system) or in nearby organs like the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum.
Ovarian cancer is classified into several types based on the type of cell that causes it. The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer which is formed by a type of cell that surrounds the outside of the ovaries. Another type, called the germ cell ovarian cancer, arises from the germ cells that produce eggs. Additionally, cancerous cells in connective tissue that fill the ovaries give rise to stromal ovarian cancer.
As with most diseases, chances of effective treatment are increased by early detection of ovarian cancer as earlier stages means the spread of cancer may still be controllable/preventable. One of the ways supported by medical professionals to identify the illness and start treatment quickly is ovarian cancer screening. Unfortunately, there are currently no established standard tests for screening, but the ones that are available are nonetheless useful.
Ovarian cancer screenings come in many forms in Singapore. The following is the customary screening carried out by the country’s qualified healthcare professionals:
- Family History
Review of family history is one of the standard checks done by the doctor to gather important data from the patient. As part of the screening process, the doctor will ask questions specific to family history in relation to cancers most especially to ovarian cancer, and other diseases. Review of family history is often the initial screening done before additional tests are decided upon and performed.
- Physical Examination
A lump or other worrisome anomaly may be felt by your doctor while feeling the ovaries and adjacent organs (in the pelvis). A physical examination can identify tumors and other signs of ovarian cancer. However, early detection is very rare due to the way the ovaries are situated in the female body. Tumors found during a physical exam are extremely uncommon in the early stages of ovarian cancer – implying that tumors discovered during a physical exam may indicate that the disease is already advanced.
A pelvic ultrasound is a diagnostic test that generates visuals that are needed to evaluate the female pelvis’ organs and structure. This screening test is noninvasive and it has been shown to be more beneficial because it can determine whether the ovaries are the correct size, have a normal texture, or have cysts.
- CA 125 test
A CA 125 test is a form of blood test that quantifies the level of the cancer antigen – CA 125 protein in the blood. This test is used only for women who have high risk of developing ovarian cancer as high levels can be caused by other conditions too. Also, high levels will likely require additional testing to determine whether there really is cancer.
- Risk of Malignancy Index (RMI)
A device known as the risk of malignancy index is also used to determine whether an abnormality is more likely to be cancer or not. This index provides doctors with a final score by combining the results of the ultrasound, CA 125 blood levels, and menopausal status. Women who score high are referred to a tertiary center for additional testing.
As there is no standard test for ovarian cancer, doctors will most likely use a series of screening tests to properly diagnose ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer in its early stages has no symptoms. The common ovarian cancer symptoms include frequently experiencing a bloated or enlarged stomach, feeling pain or sensitivity in the stomach or the region between the hips may hurt, lacking appetite or quickly being full after eating, having a pressing urge to urinate or having to urinate frequently.
Other signs such as indigestion, diarrhea or constipation, back ache, having constant fatigue, shedding pounds without effort or bleeding after menopause from the vagina can also be experienced by those who have ovarian cancer. If any of these symptoms are present, schedule an ovarian cancer screening soonest. It is important to note though that the signs or symptoms experienced can also be caused by other conditions. Other causes of your symptoms, such as other reproductive issues, gastrointestinal issues, or urinary conditions that can mimic ovarian cancer, may exist. Medical advice should be sought for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Because the ovaries are the primary part of the female reproductive system, ovarian cancer is a threat to all women. Other factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease includes the following:
- Advanced age
The risk increases as age advances. Ovarian cancer is more likely to affect older women than younger ones. According to statistics, ovarian cancer most frequently affects women aged 63 and older and less frequently those aged 40 and younger.
- Obesity/Being overweight
Obesity is mostly associated with increased risk of developing a lot of diseases including cancers.
- History of other cancers
Women who have had breast cancer, colon cancer, or cancer of the uterus or rectum, etc. are more at risk of developing ovarian cancer
- Family history of ovarian cancer
Having a relative that has ovarian cancer puts a woman at a higher risk of also developing the disease. Also, a family history of genetic disorders associated with breast or ovarian cancer is an added risk.
- No previous pregnancies or a late first-time pregnancy
- Early menstrual cycle onset or late menopause onset
- Hormone replacement therapy is being used.
Although there is no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, the some measures may lower the risk such as maintaining to a healthy lifestyle (regular exercise, maintaining a proper weight, eating a balanced meal, etc.), and utilizing birth control pills. Talking about your risks from ovarian cancer with your doctor is recommended for proper guidance.
The Health Advisory Clinic
One Raffles Place, #04-49
1 Raffles Place, Singapore 048616
Tel: (+65) 6226 6442
Whatsapp: (+65) 9886 6442