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Dr Beatrice Chia Shi Yun, LifeCare Primary Care Doctor

1 May, 2023

Five (5) Expert Facts Every Woman Should know on Ovarian Cancer

Malaysians mourned with sadness as news of one of our most talented local female artiste plastered on local tabloids in the year 2022 the jovial-natured Adibah Noor Mohamed Omar had lost her battle to Stage 4 ovarian cancer. The news triggered much discussion amongst various healthcare communities and the Ministry of Health (MOH) minister even released a press statement to promote awareness of the second most deadly gynaecological cancer worldwide ovarian cancer (OC).

Malaysian Statistics: Ovarian Cancer

According to the Cancer Research Malaysia organisation, OC is less common than its other gynaecological rivals: breast or cervical cancer. Although OC is contributed to five per cent (5%) of the total malignancies in Malaysian women, it is the fourth most common malignancy affecting Malaysian women.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is now recognised as having detectable early symptoms including abdominal distension (bloating, increased abdominal size), pelvic and/or abdominal pain, problems with eating (loss of appetite, feeling full quickly), and frequent urination. However, many women are not aware of these non-specific symptoms and often misattribute them to other benign medical conditions, ageing or stress — resulting in late detection and treatment. 

Predisposing Risk factors and Protective factors of ovarian cancer

Statistics show that between one-third (1/3rd) to two-fifths (2/5th) of the total OC cases can be prevented by eliminating and reducing risk factors. There are several notable predisposing factors which are associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer, as well as protective factors which lower the risk for OC.

Predisposing Factors

Protective Factors

Risk increases with age after 40 years old

Having more children

Menstrual related factors

Oral contraception

Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT)

Higher age of childbirth

Family history of OC

Endometriosis

BRCA gene mutations

Breastfeeding

Alcohol, caffeine & cigarettes

Who should be screened for Ovarian Cancer?

High-risk family history

A woman with who has a strong family history of breast or OC in more than one relative or has family members with certain genetic mutation related cancers. Ovarian cancer screening may be recommended for women who are eligible to undergo genetic testing for BRCA1, BRCA2 mutation or Lynch syndrome (due to high family risks) who have or have not

chosen to proceed for such genetic testing. In this group, OC screening may be started at age 30 to 35, or 5 to 10 years earlier than the age when the youngest family member was diagnosed. Screening may include a blood test for CA 125 and a pelvic ultrasound.

Low to Average-risk women

Women in this category do not have a personal or family history of ovarian cancer. Screening for ovarian cancer is not commonly recommended in these women. However, they should discuss their risks for ovarian cancer with a health care provider.

Ovarian cancer is more lethal than its other cancer counterparts because there is no single effective screening tool. Thus, most OC patients are detected in the later stages of cancer resulting in higher mortality. The challenge is for women everywhere to understand their bodies and be alert to their changes so that they can seek treatment earlier.

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