Ovarian cancer can often be confused with other diagnoses and be detected late
Ovarian cancer is one of the diseases that persist as a threat to women's health, and its incidence and mortality, like other types of cancer, tend to rise in the world due to the lack of attention in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, on the occasion of World Ovarian Cancer Day, this May 8th, the World Health Organization (WHO) draws attention to this disease that has the lowest survival rate of all female cancers, is the fourth most common tumor in women, and three out of four cases have no cure due to late diagnoses.
It is estimated that by 2035, the number of deaths will have increased by 70% and annual diagnoses will have grown by 55%. According to Globocan figures for 2020, this type of disease is more frequent in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia (9.2 cases per 100,000 women and 5.6 deaths per 100,000), while in Latin America, the incidence and mortality are lower, except in Colombia and Uruguay (between 7.3 and 9.2 cases per 100,000 and 4.8-5.6 deaths). There are doubts in this region because there is considered to be underreporting of cases.
According to Edgar Pulido, Medical Director of the Colombian League Against Cancer, the pandemic aggravated the situation: "Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in diagnosis and treatment initiation times worldwide, as well as a decrease in follow-up consultations for various oncological pathologies, including ovarian cancer. This resulted in adverse outcomes for patients."
The worrisome thing is that ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed in approximately 80% of cases in advanced stages, which can reduce survival to 5 years. This is due to the presence of symptoms that can confuse the diagnosis, having a late medical consultation, or receiving inadequate treatment.
The key to timely diagnosis: "The problem with the disease is that most consultations are made when the disease is already advanced, as it can initially be asymptomatic or show very bizarre symptoms, such as gastrointestinal discomfort that leads to thinking of other diagnoses," explained Claudia Cecilia Cruz Castro, gynecologist-oncologist at the Center for Cancer Treatment and Research (CTIC).
Keep in mind that this type of cancer is related to risk factors such as the absence of pregnancies, early onset of menstruation, and late onset of menopause.
"It has also been found a possible association with the use of talcum powder in the genital region. The scientific evidence is not conclusive to associate ovarian cancer directly with the use of postmenopausal hormone therapy or with benign pathologies such as polycystic ovary syndrome, pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis," added Pulido.
Review your genetic background
For Lina Maria Trujillo Sanchez, Deputy General Director of Medical Care and Education at the National Cancer Institute (Bogotá), "when facing ovarian cancer, it is necessary to investigate if there is any genetic pattern that should be studied and have information for appropriate clinical management that often includes genetic counseling for families."
This includes testing to detect BRCA genetic mutations, which has led several women to undergo preventive surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes. "For those women who carry specific mutations, the prescription of new drugs directed towards these alterations has shown greater benefit compared to previously established medical treatments," Pulido stated.
Keep in mind that healthy lifestyles will always be the key to prevention, not just for this type of cancer. Regular exercise, a balanced diet to avoid obesity, and not smoking are part of the strategy.
"My recommendation is to have healthy habits, regularly consult with your doctor for checkups, especially gynecological ones, and if you have a family history of cancer, mention it during your consultation. If you have a suspicious ovarian mass, consult with a gynecologic oncologist and be managed at comprehensive centers with experience in managing this disease," said Trujillo.