What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in Malaysia. It is responsible for 140,000 deaths annually around the world. Approximately 500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in Malaysia.
There are no known risk factors for the majority of patients with ovarian cancer. However, family history is important as about 5-10% of these cancers are hereditary. Women who carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, genes associated with ovarian cancer, are at higher risk of getting ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer in its early stages produces few or non-specific symptoms. Vague symptoms often result in the disease progressing undetected until it reaches an advanced stage. Approximately 70% of women are diagnosed at Stage 3 or Stage 4 of the disease, with an overall five-year survival rate of only 30%.
To aid in earlier detection, even vague symptoms should be carefully evaluated. These symptoms include:
- Abdominal bloating or fullness,
- Anorexia (poor appetite and loss of weight)
- Lower abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge that is not normal for you
- Irregular vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause
- Back pain
- Increased urge to urinate
Women should go for pelvic examination by a gynaecological oncologist or gynaecologist during routine Pap smears as this may result in the detection of gynaecological problems, including ovarian cancer.
How is Ovarian Cancer Diagnosed?
- Pelvic and abdominal examination
- Tumour marker tests
- Ultrasound scan
- CT scan
- MRI scan
The survival rate for ovarian cancer is high when it is diagnosed early and treated appropriately.
What are the Treatment Options for Ovarian Cancer?
Patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer may be treated with:
- Radical surgery
- Targeted therapy
For ovarian cancer, the cornerstone of treatment is optimal surgical cytoreduction – an operation that involves the removal of the uterus, Fallopian tubes and ovaries, as well as tumour deposits within the abdominal cavity.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells either by killing the cancer cells or by stopping them from dividing, multiplying and spreading. Some patients, especially those in poor health, may be advised by the doctor to receive neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. This involves completing three courses of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, and then three further courses of chemotherapy. There is now an emerging role for targeted therapy in selected patients with ovarian cancer.