Ovarian cancer is easiest understood as the malignancy of the ovary. It’s said to have "the lowest survival rate out of all gynecologic cancers" like cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, and uterine/endometrial cancer. Its Annual Mortality Rate is 2.2. per 100,000 people. It could be because many women still don’t know enough about it, and in some cases, would only attend to it when the cancer has reached the advanced stages.
As the World Ovarian Cancer Day goes to pass, we put together the basics about this killer disease. We picked the brain of St. Luke’s Medical Center's Gynecologic Oncologist and Robotics and Laparoscopic Surgeon Leo Aquilizan to learn more!
1. The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. "Some say that when the ovary ovulates, it leaves a sugat and then the body repairs it. When there is incessant ovulation and repeated sugat of the ovaries, eventually the repair is imperfect. But that's just a theory."
2. Birth control reduces the risk. "Women who've taken any oral contraceptive pills for at least a year are less at risk of ovarian cancer for 10 years."
3. Women should be aware of the risk factors. "Ang risk factors natin ay 'pag never got pregnant or newly pregnant. Obesity din ang isa. Tsaka familial tendency, meaning women who have the BRCA (breast cancer) gene will be at risk."
[related: In Focus: Handling #PreggoProblems]
4. Ovarian cancer doesn’t discriminate age. "As you get older, usually 50-60 years old, you’re more at risk for any form of cancer. But in recent years, I’ve seen sa Philippines a lot of malignancies sa young patients. When I say 'young,' that’s 40 and below.
5. “90% of women with ovarian cancer show no obvious, external symptoms. The abdomen is a hollow organ. If the ovaries grow, hindi mo mamamalay because it has a large space to fill. So, 'pag nagkakaroon sila ng symptoms tulad ng malaking-malaki ang ovaries, bloatedness. abdominal pain, busog agad, ascites or distention secondary to fluid, most of the patients will be at the advanced stage."
6. Treatments vary depending on the stage. "The cornerstone of managing ovarian cancer is removing the ovaries or, sometimes, all reproductive organs. Aside from surgery, baka kailangan ng additional treatment in the form of chemotherapy."
7. On the one hand, there are different ways to detect ovarian cancer. "You can do a simple transvaginal ultrasound or pelvic ultrasound to detect if the ovaries are enlarged or not. And your doctor can categorize whether it’s benign (not cancerous), or malignant (cancerous). There are also tumor markers like Cancer Antigent 125 (CA-125). It’s a blood test that checks your CA-125 level. If its elevated, it can signal malignancy."
8. On the other hand, there is no set in stone standard form of screening. Whether you opt for "single or combined screening using CA-125 and/or ultrasound," they make no difference."
9. You can still have sex. “I usually recommend having sexual contact six to eight weeks after an operation. But the problem is that if you remove both ovaries, you also remove the hormones. So, most patients will have decreased libido.”
[related: In Focus: 10 Things To Know Before Doing It]
10. Positivity and support are just as important as surgery. "Dapat hindi ka mawalan ng hope. If your mindset is hindi ka gagaling, hindi ka talaga gagaling. Some of the centers have also support groups of patients who are living with cancer. They have activities and share their experiences."
11. No one diet or exercise will totally protect you from ovarian cancer. But that doesn’t mean you should forego either. "We still recommend a balanced diet to patients–that’s the food pyramid. Kahit anong exercise is good in preventing cancer, in general."
ALSO READ: Lifestyle Hotshots: Fitspo And Inspo In One–Meet Home Radio DJ And Cancer Survivor Kyle Ortega
Photograph from http://www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/world-ovarian-cancer-day-2017