The best way to beat ovarian cancer is to know the difference between misconceptions and reality. Here are 4 false assumptions, debunked.
It is estimated that 1,532 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year and whilst it is the 10thmost common cancer type for Australian women, with survival beyond five years after diagnosis at only 46%, it’s a disease that constantly requires improved education of the public. Specifically to ensure we as women understand the early signs and symptoms, in order to ensure an earlier diagnosis, and therefore better survival outcomes.
A recent poll by Pink Hope found that awareness of ovarian cancer signs and symptoms are low (around 50% of women admitted to not knowing the symptoms), and this lack of awareness can lead to confusion and fear, and to all kinds of misconceptions.
With this in mind, we’ve pulled together some of the biggest myths surrounding ovarian cancer so you can stay aware and vigilant, because it’s incredibly important to listen to your body and reach out to your doctor when you feel as though something isn’t quite right.
MYTH: The symptoms are so subtle, by the time you notice them, it’ll be too late
While it’s true that symptoms of ovarian cancer can feel like other sensations, such as bloating or general discomfort, certain changes in your body are a flag you should speak to your doctor.
Whether feeling bloated, a loss of appetite due to feeling as though you are ‘full’, or an unusual cramp and sense of heaviness, any of these small things can add up to something more serious.
Changes to your bowel habits, such as being more constipated than usual, more frequent heartburn, pain during intercourse or an ache in your back or abdomen, or both, are symptoms worth discussion with your doctor.
Monitoring these changes can be the difference between early and late detection, or identifying the cause of another underlying issue that’s also important to get on top of!
MYTH: Your pap-smear will catch ovarian cancer
One of the biggest misconceptions is that a pap smear screens for ovarian cancer, however it’s important to know that a pap smear only screens for cervical related cancer, and unfortunately at time of writing, there is no comparable test for ovarian cancer.
With these limitations, it’s incredibly important to speak with your doctor about any consistent physical discomfort or changes you are noticing. If something feels new or wrong, listen to your body and speak to your health professional.
Following a discussion around your symptoms, family history and other risk factors, your doctor might start by doing a pelvic exam, and may order a blood test and ultrasound to look for suspicious growths. Your doctor may also consult a gynaecological oncologist to take a closer look at the findings to keep you well monitored.
MYTH: Ovarian cysts are a type of ovarian cancer
Having ovarian cysts does not mean you have ovarian cancer! Cysts on your ovaries are common, and in most situations normal.
Most ovulating women form cysts, which are small sacs filled with fluid, on their ovaries each month. Known as functional cysts these are benign and usually disappear on their own. Other types of benign cysts can form around the ovaries too, and often go away without further treatment required. When ovarian cancer develops however, it is often on the outside surface cells of the ovaries, known as the epithelial cells, where most malignancies are found. It can develop in the cells that form the eggs, the cells that release estrogen and progesterone or on the fallopian tubes.
The malignant ovarian cysts that characterise ovarian cancer are rare, and only 13 to 21 percent of ovarian cysts that are removed are cancerous, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Unusual symptoms can be a sign of a cyst that needs to be examined more closely and potentially removed, especially if a patient has other risk factors, such as family history or age (postmenopausal women are at highest risk).
MYTH: No family history means you’re in the clear
Regardless of whether you carry a strong family history or genetic predisposition to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, all women need to be vigilant about their ovarian health.
While on average, a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1 in 85 by her 80thbirthday, according to Cancer Australia, scientists really don’t know the main cause. Whilst age is one risk factor, endometriosis can also influence a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.
MYTH: Ovarian cancer is incurable
Ovarian cancer can be cured, especially when detected early. And whilst more difficult to treat, certain late stage ovarian cancers also have good outcomes, depending on a variety of factors.
New targeted therapies, particularly for BRCA-related ovarian cancers are helping women with late stage ovarian cancer to live longer, and patients who don’t respond to one therapy are often finding new therapies.
Because early detection plays such a key role in the survival of ovarian cancer patients, it’s so important to be empowered to know what the signs and symptoms are, and to ask your doctor if you feel as though something is wrong.
Never, ever, be afraid to speak up if you believe something is wrong. Believe in yourself, know your body, and don’t take no for an answer when you feel something isn’t quite right.