Ovarian cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. Known to rapidly grow, the cancer can progress from early to advanced stages within a year. Therefore, many a times, the patient reaches the doctor only at the very end.
To be diagnosed with ovarian cancer means that you are at a very high risk to develop some other type of cancer on the nearest organs if the treatment doesn’t start on time. As we already know, ovarian cancer can be very tricky to diagnose because the symptoms are as same as those of endometriosis or heavy periods. Moreover, many women ignore their symptoms and don’t visit their gynecologists for regular examinations. The ovaries are very small organs with soft tissues, and ovarian cancer can affect the other organs in the pelvic cavity within a very short time.
Exercising caution and being attentive to symptoms can help diagnose and treat the disease promptly. Common symptoms include abdominal bloating and pain, difficulty eating, abnormal fullness after eating and in some cases urinating more than usual. These symptoms are common to other ailments as well, however, if they occur daily for many weeks it could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
Certain risk factors have been noticed to increase the likelihood of getting ovarian cancer. While these may not be a definite indicator that one will get cancer, it helps being cautious. Here are a few common risk factors –
There is an increased risk that you may develop ovarian cancer if a close relative has had it. The more the number of relatives with ovarian cancer, the higher your chances are.
Ovarian cancer rates are higher among older women, especially those between the ages of 55-64 years. As you age so increases your risk.
Obese women are at more risk of getting ovarian cancer than others.
The treatment for ovarian cancer usually depends on how far the disease has progressed.
One of the most common treatments for ovarian cancer is the hysterectomy, which can be total (whole womb, cervix, and ovaries removed) or partial (only ovaries or uterus removed).
This form of treatment is often chosen as the first option to curb the growth of the disease. It is important that the cancer is removed before it spreads.
When ovarian cancer is diagnosed, a specialist called a gynecologic oncologist will suggest the possible treatments to the patients. The treatment of ovarian cancer may include a few cycles of chemotherapy, or radiation, and surgery. Depending on the stage of ovarian cancer, the patient may go to chemotherapy first to stop spreading of the cancer cells, and then to go to hysterectomy. The other case is having surgery first, when the most of the tumor (as much as possible) is removed surgically, and chemotherapy after that, to cure the rest of the disease. Sometimes, hysterectomy is the only possible solution for this disease. In the best cases, only one ovary will be removed, and a few years after the complete treatment (surgery and chemotherapy combined), the patient can get pregnant and raise a family later in the life. The worst case is when the whole womb is removed from the body, including parts from the nearest organs. Sometimes, if it is possible, the surgeon can decide to keep one of the ovaries to keep the hormone balance.
The surgery for ovarian cancer includes a few steps:
- Hysterectomy – total or partial. The partial hysterectomy is called salpingo-oophorectomy, when only the ovaries and Fallopian tubes are removed.
- Taking samples of the tumors for future examinations.
- Removing the lymph nodes in the pelvis to see if the cancer is spreading.
- Taking samples from the nearest organs for biopsy.
The result of the surgery depends on the general health condition of the patient and the stage of ovarian cancer. Many women have to stay at the hospital for one or two weeks after the hysterectomy and come back in less than a month if chemotherapy is needed.
As with any form of surgery, post hysterectomy it is important to rest and follow the instructions given by the doctor. Any discomfort felt after surgery should wane with time. It can take time to recover completely post surgery. Take it easy and do not rush it.
Sometimes, the hysterectomy may have some side effects, and if the woman has any of these, she should go to her doctor immediately:
- Irregular and heavy vaginal bleeding (more than one pad in an hour)
- Bad smell near the wound
- Nausea and vomiting
- Inability to drink water (or other drinks)
- Infections and fever
- Pain, when painkillers don’t help
- Troubles when going to the toilet
- Hot flashes
- High blood pressure
- Vein thrombosis
Hysterectomy needs to be done because ovarian cancer can easily spread to other organs. In the best case, if ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, there is a possibility that only one ovary will be removed. If that happens, the woman will have another ovary that will produce eggs and keep the hormone balance in the body. When the treatment is started in the early stages of the disease, the patient has better chances for total curing, with a very low possibility that the disease will happen again later in life. Some women lose their libido, and they may have no wish for sex after the surgery.
It is important to understand that a hysterectomy does not guarantee prevention of ovarian cancer. It just reduces the risk of getting it. One must be aware that it is still possible to get ovarian cancer if your uterus has been removed. That is because ovarian cells that cause the development of ovarian cancer can migrate and settle at another spot. The chances that these cells will also turn cancerous are high.
A hysterectomy may not be the solution to ovarian cancer but it does help add years to your life and ease your pain by dealing with the immediate concern.