What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer happens when some of the cells in one or both of your ovaries start to grow abnormally then develop into cancer.
The ovaries are part of a woman’s reproductive system. Their job is to make and release an egg each month, and to make hormones that regulate your periods and affect the development of the breasts and body hair.
There are several types of ovarian cancer, namely:
- Epithelial: This is the most common type. The cancer begins in the cells covering the surface of your ovaries.
- Germ cell: This cancer begins in the eggs within the ovary. It’s uncommon and mainly happens in younger women.
- Sex-cord stromal: The cancer begins in the tissue that releases female hormones.
What Causes Ovarian Cancer?
- Other members of your family have it
- You’ve had breast cancer, uterine cancer or bowel cancer
- You’re over 50 and have been through menopause
- You’re obese
- You smoke
- You have endometriosis
- You’ve never been pregnant
- You take hormone therapy
- You carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (you’d only know this if you’d been tested for it).
What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms in its early stages and there’s no screening or early detection test for it. This means the disease has often become more advanced by the time it is diagnosed.
You may notice the following symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- An sense of pressure or pain in your pelvis
- A swollen, bloated or uncomfortable belly
- Not feeling hungry or feeling full quite quickly
- Indigestion or nausea
- Losing or gaining weight unexpectedly
- Bleeding between periods or after menopause
- Pain during sex
- A change in your toilet habits such as needing the loo more often or having constipation or diarrhoea.
Many other things can cause these symptoms – we’ve probably all had some of them from time to time. But if the symptoms are new for you, or if they go on for a few weeks or more, then come into CRAICCHS to see our bulk-billing doctor. It doesn’t mean you have ovarian cancer but it’s good to have a check-up.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, you may have some tests and scans to rule out other explanations, see if you have cancer and check if it has spread to other parts of your body.
That may include a biopsy, where tissue samples are taken from your ovaries and looked at through a microscope to see if the cells in the sample show cancerous changes.
You may have many questions at this point and it’s OK to ask them. The Cancer Council has a list of questions to ask your doctor if you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.
What Are the Stages and Grades of Ovarian Cancer?
If you have ovarian cancer, you’ll want to know whether it’s early or late stage and whether it’s spread anywhere else. Doctors use something called the FIGO system to classify the disease. Stages 1 and 2 are considered early stage cancer while stages 3 and 4, when 70% of women are diagnosed, mean your cancer is more advanced.
The cancer is in one or both ovaries but nowhere else.
The cancer has spread to other pelvic organs like your womb, fallopian tubes, bladder or bowel.
The cancer has spread beyond your pelvis to the lining of your abdomen and to nearby lymph nodes.
The cancer has spread to more distant organs like your lungs or liver.
Grading is a way of explaining how aggressive your cancer may be. It’s about whether the cancer cells still look similar to normal cells or look very different and about whether they’re growing slowly or quickly. Treatment is more likely to be successful if your cancer is at grade 1 (low) rather than grade 3.
What’s the Prognosis of Ovarian Cancer?
A prognosis predicts the likely outcome of your disease – how likely is it that your treatment will be successful.
The 5-year survival rate for Indigenous women with ovarian cancer is 45%. Treatment is more likely to succeed if your cancer is diagnosed in its early stages before it has spread to other parts of your body.
How Is Ovarian Cancer Treated?
The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the type of cancer you have, the stage it’s reached, your overall health, and whether you wish to become pregnant or not.
You may be able to get help with some of the costs of cancer treatment (though it’s free if you use a public hospital).
Treatment might be nearby or you might have to travel. This is where our Integrated Team Care can provide support. They will work collaboratively with your health professionals and can assist with the following:
- Coordinating appointments with specialists and allied health professionals;
- Transporting you to and from appointments (excluding Toowoomba. Please refer to Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme Bus);
- Fuel cards which can be picked up from CRAICCHS (pending availability), you just need to bring along your specialist appointment letter
- Offer home visits and clinical outreach service, including monitoring general observations;
- Connecting and referring you to support groups
- Accommodation; when accessing specialist services away from home, including assisting with PTSS;
- Providing follow-up care, including pre/post-operative care and support; and
- Accessing funding to pay for medical aids, including: assisted breathing equipment, monitoring equipment, dose administration aids, medical footwear, mobility aids, and spectacles, in conjunction with the Medical Aids Subsidy Scheme (MASS).
Can Ovarian Cancer Be Prevented?
You can’t do anything about your age, gender or family history but there are some other ways to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being physically active
- Having babies and breastfeeding them
- Using oral contraceptive pills.
Some surgeries can also lower the risk of ovarian cancer. Usually, you’ll be having these operations for a different medical reason, such as:
- Having your tubes tied (tubal ligation) to prevent pregnancy
- Having your ovaries removed when you have a hysterectomy (removal of your womb).
If you’re at high risk of ovarian cancer, your doctor may recommend removing your ovaries to prevent cancer developing. This is called a prophylactic oophorectomy.
How Can CRAICCHS Help?
If you’re worried about ovarian cancer, then please come to see us at CRAICCHS. Our doctors can listen to your worries, examine you, and, if necessary, order tests to see if you have ovarian cancer. If you do, we’ll help you through the process of getting treatment. Please come and see us today.