To honour women and girls on World Health Day, I am breaking the silence on a medical condition often called the “silent killer.” The ironic thing about this silent killer is that it is actually not all that silent. Sometimes silence gives us a false assumption that it won’t happen. But in actuality, silence kills and speaking up saves lives.
Ovarian Cancer is a malignant tumor capable of spreading to other parts of the body. We learn of a woman who has been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and it is not uncommon to hear that she had “no symptoms.” That is why it is important for women and girls to be familiar with the risk factors and early signs of Ovarian Cancer. Fear also prevents early detection of Ovarian Cancer that has five-year survival rates ranging from 18% to 89% for some tumors.
A woman has two small oval shaped organs, ovaries, on either side of her uterus that produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone to make and release eggs. They lie near the end of the fallopian tubes, which connect them to the uterus. Recent research suggests that Ovarian Cancer begins in the fallopian tubes and spreads to the ovaries.
The strongest risk factor for Ovarian Cancer is age and it is most likely to develop after menopause. Family history of ovarian or breast cancer places a woman at greater risk. Obese women not only have a higher risk for developing the cancer, but also dying from it as well. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is another risk factor and it is vital for a woman to understand the risks vs. the benefits of menopausal treatment. Smoking can also put you at risk.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- A lump that can be felt in the pelvic or abdominal area
- Need to urinate often
- Intense need to urinate
- Changes to digestion
- Feeling of pressure in the pelvic or abdominal area
- Pain in the legs, lower back, pelvis or abdomen
- Painful intercourse
- Early puberty
- Breast enlargement or tenderness
- Menstrual irregularity in premenopausal women
- Vaginal spotting in post-menopausal women
- Hardening of the tissues of the vagina in post-menopausal women
- Secondary male sex characteristics (increased growth of body and facial hair, deepened voice, male-pattern baldness or enlargement of the clitoris)
Many women ignore these symptoms leading up to a diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer which is understandable since they often overlap with other medical conditions like vaginal atrophy, overactive bladder, and/or dyspareunia (painful sex) to name a few. Vaginal dryness is one reason for painful sex and is easily treated with personal moisturizers (like RepaGyn®, a hormone-free option for women).
Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding is not normal and always warrants investigation. This is different from post coital bleeding after menopause that is associated with vaginal atrophy.
There are a number of reasons women bloat throughout their lives; hormonal fluctuations, celiac disease, flatulence, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Early detection is key and bloating is an important symptom that should not be ignored, as it is may be one of the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer.
If any of the symptoms mentioned above occur persistently for more than a few weeks, report them to your doctor. Know your risk factors. Ok, there is nothing a woman can do about age or family history but she can reduce her weight and quit smoking.
The more we speak up about the silent medical conditions that snuff out the lives of our women and girls, the better we will all be. Please share this post with your mothers, daughters, colleagues and friends because you may help to save a life or better yet extinguish a disease.
For more information visit Cancer.ca