Ovarian Cancer is the 5th commonest women’s cancer in Singapore.
What are ovaries?
The ovaries are the female reproductive organs. Each ovary is approximately the size of a quail’s egg.
The ovaries sit in the right and left side of the pelvis, and are connected to the uterus (womb) via the fallopian tubes.
The ovaries are responsible for producing the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. They also contain eggs that are released every month during the menstrual cycle; these eggs have the potential for fertilization, which results in formation of a fetus and eventual child birth.
What causes Ovarian Cancer?
Genetics play a key role in ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, you are more likely to have it too.
A small percentage of ovarian cancers are linked specifically to the cancer genes BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. The inheritance of these genes significantly increases your chances of having ovarian and breast cancer.
Increased age > 40 years old and obesity both increase your risk of ovarian cancer.
Pregnancy protects against ovarian cancer. In fact, the more pregnancies you have, the lower your risk of having ovarian cancer.
The age at which you have children also plays a role. Childbirth before 26 years of age is protective against ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding further lowers your risk.
Conversely, late childbirth later than 35 years of age, or no childbirth at all are both risk factors for ovarian cancer.
The use of the oral contraceptive pill also protects against ovarian cancer. This reduced risk is seen as early as 3 months of use, and the risk reduction is proportional to the duration of pill use.
Your menstrual history influences your chances of ovarian cancer – ladies who experience early menarche (onset of mensus) before age 12, or late menopause after age 55 are at increased risk.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
The symptoms of cancer of the ovary include abdominal or pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, abdominal bloating and urinary discomfort.
Sometimes, ovarian cancer can also present with seemingly unrelated symptoms such as loss of appetite and weight, change in bowel habit or abdominal gassiness and indigestion.
Do I need to screen for ovarian cancer?
No routine screening is required for women without risk factors for ovarian cancer.
In women with high risk of ovarian cancer, an annual visit to your doctor is necessary – this will entail a pelvic examination, a pelvic ultrasound, and a blood test for the ovarian cancer marker CA125.
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