How often do you think about your ovarian health? It’s likely that ovarian health isn’t at the forefront of your mind, with more immediate health problems and day-to-day stresses occupying your thoughts.
However, your ovarian health is something to keep in mind, particularly as you get older. As you age, your risk of ovarian cancer increases; as many as 7,500 ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed annually in the UK, which is a staggering 21 diagnoses every day.
Some 11% of all those cases are preventable, which just goes to show the importance of taking care of your ovarian health. This blog post will discuss ovarian health, how ovarian cancer affects your body and what you can do to prevent it. Learn all of this and more with Echelon Health.
Understanding ovarian health
In your body, two ovaries on either side of your uterus produce and store eggs. They also make and release the hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) that control your menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Each month, one of your ovaries will release an egg for fertilisation or be expelled through your menstrual cycle. Sometimes, your ovaries will release more than one egg — leading to multiple pregnancies if fertilised. Your body won’t typically stop releasing eggs until you reach menopause.
Maintaining the best ovarian health you can is really important if you decide that you want to start a family. It can also help to reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.
There are several ways that you can promote ovarian health, such as:
- Eating a well-balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals
- Having regular check-ups with your doctor
- Tracking your menstrual cycle so you are aware of any changes that might need a medical opinion
- Using contraception to prevent sexually transmitted diseases
Ovarian cancer: an overview
Ovarian cancer develops when abnormal cells in your ovary grow and form a tumour. If ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed and treated early, it can spread to other body parts.
There are different types of ovarian cancer:
- Epithelial ovarian cancer: in this most common type of ovarian cancer, the cancer starts in the surface layer of your ovary.
- Germ cell ovarian tumours: this rare type of cancer develops in your eggs and tends to affect younger women and girls.
- Sex cord-stromal tumours: these can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) but they are rare. They grow in your ovary but start in the tissue (stroma) supporting your ovaries.
Stages of ovarian cancer
The stage of a cancer will be determined by the size of the tumour or cells and whether they have spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage 1 ovarian cancer is only found in your ovaries. Generally, surgery is the most common treatment, with the possibility of chemotherapy.
- Stage 2 ovarian cancer means it has now grown outside your ovaries and is developing in your pelvis too. Surgery, chemotherapy and other therapies are the most common treatments.
- Stage 3 ovarian cancer indicates that cancer has spread further than your ovaries and pelvis and is found in your abdominal cavity and/or lymph nodes. Treatments include surgery and chemotherapy.
- Stage 4 ovarian cancer is when cancer has spread to other areas of your body that are further away from your ovaries, like your lungs. Chemotherapy and surgery can help treat it.
With all cancers, the earlier they are detected and treated, the better — and ovarian cancer is no different.
When ovarian cancer reaches the later stages, it can be harder to treat as it is much more widespread. However, catching it in the early stages of development can mean more effective treatments.
Regular ovarian cancer screenings are crucial when it comes to detecting any abnormalities. A few moments of discomfort are much better than leaving it too late, so never put off your screening.
Symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can vary slightly from person to person. The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Lack of appetite
- Stomach pain that doesn’t go away
- Needing to urinate more
- Feeling full quickly
- Larger abdomen when your diet has remained the same
- Unexplained tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes in your bowel habits
Remember that these symptoms can also be signs of other health conditions, so it’s always best to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Some women may be at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. These risk factors include:
- Age – from the age of 45, your risk begins to increase and is the highest when you are around 75 and 79
- Genetic mutations – an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes is responsible for 5–15% of ovarian cancers
- Family history – if you have a mother or sister with ovarian cancer, you are up to three times as likely to develop ovarian cancer
- Been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past
- Are using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause
- Smoking – the longer you smoke, the greater the risk becomes
- Being overweight or obese
Recognising the early warning signs of ovarian cancer gives any treatment the best chance of working.
If you feel that you may be showing any of these symptoms or are worried about the potential risk factors you have, seek your doctor’s advice as soon as possible.
Diagnosing ovarian cancer
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer typically starts with a visit to your GP. They will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. They may then refer you to a specialist, such as a pathologist, for further testing.
The types of tests used to diagnose ovarian cancer are:
- Blood tests
- Ultrasound scans
- CT scans
- Chest X-ray
- Image-guided biopsy (tissue sample)
- Laparotomy (a surgical procedure in which an incision is made into the abdominal cavity)
- Removal and testing of abdominal fluid
These tests are helpful in providing an accurate diagnosis and confirming what stage your ovarian cancer is in.
A pathologist will take a biopsy (tissue sample) and analyse it for ovarian cancer. They will also determine whether any tumours are benign or malignant. With the information they collect from your biopsy, they can determine the best course of treatment.
Treatment options for ovarian cancer
It usually takes a multidisciplinary approach and different treatments to achieve the best outcome when treating ovarian cancer to personalise your treatment for your body.
The most common treatment options for ovarian cancer include:
- Surgery – involves surgically removing your ovaries, fallopian tubes and your womb, including your cervix. This surgery is typically called a hysterectomy. If your cancer is in the earlier stages, removing only one ovary and fallopian tube is sometimes possible.
- Chemotherapy – a type of medication that aims to destroy cancer cells. It is usually given intravenously through a catheter, port or pump.
- Radiotherapy – uses intense beams of radiation to shrink and kill cancer cells in your body.
- Targeted therapy – uses medication to target the cells and proteins that encourage cancer to grow.
Prevention and early detection
Not all ovarian cancers are preventable, but there are some measures you can take to reduce your risk of developing it.
Oral contraceptives such as the combined contraceptive pill may help to lower your risk. Your risk reduction also lasts for ten years once you stop taking it. However, it depends on how long you take it.
Having children and breastfeeding could also lower your risk of ovarian cancer. The reason may be that while you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you aren’t ovulating — meaning there is less chance of cancerous cells growing.
Living a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk, too, as being overweight, smoking and drinking excessive alcohol increases your chances of ovarian cancer.
You can have genetic testing to see if you have any genetic abnormalities or mutations that increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Some women may then decide to have a hysterectomy to lower the chances of cancerous cells growing.
Get in touch with Echelon Health
Because women’s symptoms are frequently milder, they can appear later in the illness, and they can occasionally be atypical, women experience certain diseases differently than men. Heart disease in women typically goes undiagnosed, which can result in more advanced damage and worse results than in males.
Additionally, several heart disease diagnostic techniques are less reliable in diagnosing heart disease in women than in men. Without any signs of chest pain, a heart attack can strike a woman. They might have nausea or vomiting, which are frequently mistaken for the flu or acid reflux.
At Echelon Health, we offer the Cullinan Assessment, a dedicated female health assessment. In addition to the highly detailed health assessment, our clients benefit from a chauffeur driven round trip transfer within 100 miles of our Harley Street clinic and an overnight stay at The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, which includes a CBD oil deep relaxation massage.
The following tests are part of the Cullinan Assessment:
- Comprehensive bloods + Hormonal Profile + cancer markers
- Digital mammogram
- Transvaginal Ultrasound
- CT Coronary angiogram
- CT Chest
- CT Bone Density
- Full Body Mole Check
The Cullinan assessment is a pioneering preventative health assessment, dedicated to women, allowing them to take control of their health and gain an unparalleled insight into their body at a crucial stage of their lives.
However, if you need more peace of mind, we have the fully comprehensive Platinum Assessment. Combining the best imaging technology through our CT, MRI and ultrasound scans and years of experience among our medical experts, Echelon Health are able to detect up to 92% and 95% of preventable causes of death among men and women respectively, in one comprehensive assessment.
The test covers blood tests, hormonal profiles, cancer markers, digital mammograms, transvaginal ultrasound and ECG.
With a complete women’s health screening, you can have any symptom — no matter how mild — thoroughly investigated by our team.
Contact Echelon Health today to book your assessment.