Early detection of ovarian cancer has never been more important. This year, an expected 22,430 women in the united states will be diagnosed with the disease, and it will claim the lives of over 15,000 more; in Nigeria where there is a poor registry, our expected censor may be more than this. The good news is that, if diagnosed early enough, 9 out of 10 women can survive beyond five years – and possibly even beat the disease. But not enough women are finding it on time only 19% of cases are detected before cancer spread outside the ovary. In fact, more than 7 out of 10 women are not diagnosed until the disease has already progressed to advanced or later stages, and fewer than half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer live five years after the diagnosis.
What women need to know
Knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer and identifying ovarian cancer at its earliest stage can help improve survival. In fact, women may have symptoms for months before the cancer is actually found.
The most common symptoms are:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain.
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly.
- Urinary symptoms, such as urgent or frequent feelings of needing to go.
While these symptoms also represent common problems that affect most women at different times, if you experience combined, persistent, or worsening symptoms daily or close to daily for a period of two or three weeks, see your doctor right away. Keep in mind that a family history of ovarian or breast cancer increases your risk. Prompt evaluation of symptoms can lead to earlier diagnosis. And earlier diagnosis can significantly improve the odds. We know that when women are diagnosed in stage 1 of the disease, it is 90% curable.
Learn your family history: if any female members of your family – either on your mother’s or father’s side – has had ovarian cancer, it is important that you notify your primary care physician and your obstetrician/gynaecologist. They can monitor you on a regular basis using a variety of diagnostic tests that are available to screen for ovarian cancer. It is also important to notify your doctor if any male family members develop cancer.
Be your own advocate: researchers have found that women experience symptoms for an average of 12 weeks before consulting a doctor. In addition, it is known that women who ignore their symptoms or who wait until the symptoms are severe before going to the doctor will not live as long as women who go to the doctor when their symptoms are mild.
Monitor your annual check-ups: make sure your primary care doctor and obstetrician /gynaecologist conduct a thorough pelvic and rectal exam at every check-up. It is also important to have an annual mammogram beginning at age 40 and a regular colonoscopy after age 50.
What you should do if you have a family history of ovarian cancer?
Ask your doctor for the BRCA-1/BRCA-2 genetic test: genetic testing can determine if you carry gene mutations that put you at risk for having ovarian cancer. Carriers of the brca-1/brca-2 gene mutation carry a 60% lifetime increased risk of ovarian cancer. Testing for this gene consists of a simple blood test.
Make an appointment at a “high-risk clinic”: at a high-risk clinic, a team of specialists will evaluate your medical history, ensure that you receive the appropriate diagnostic tests, and will monitor your care. Among the tests that you may receive is the CA 125, CEA, ALPHA-FETAL PROTEIN TUMOR MARKER blood test. The CA125 screening test can be used to diagnose women who are high-risk. CA125 is a protein that can be found in the blood and is useful in detecting and evaluating ovarian cancer. The test, however, is best used in combination with a pelvic ultrasound because its accuracy is only 80%, and is even less reliable when used to screen pre-menopausal women.
Determine your HNPCC risk: women who have a rare syndrome known as HNPCC (hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer) have a 10 percent chance of developing ovarian. Cancer. These women should be monitored closely for signs of ovarian and other types of cancers.