Dr Yeh Chen Lee is a medical oncologist with a special interest in treating gynaecological cancers such as ovarian cancer. Active clinical research fellow of ANZGOG—the peak gynaecological cancer research group for Australia and New Zealand. Visit anzgog.org.au.
Ovarian Cancer is known as the ‘silent killer’ because it’s difficult to detect in its early stages. Symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions and currently, there is no screening test for women, which means that many women are diagnosed at a later stage.
Yet, what is most concerning about ovarian cancer is the lack of awareness and the myths and misconceptions that circulate in the public sphere that can give women a false sense of security.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more than 1500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019, while 1046 Australian women are expected to die from the disease this year.
The biggest myths surrounding ovarian cancer:
Myth 1: Pap smears can detect ovarian cancer. False. Myth 2: The HPV vaccine will protect against ovarian cancer. False. Myth 3: BRCA only increases your risk of breast cancer, not ovarian cancer. False.
Read on as Dr Yeh Chen Lee answers all our questions regarding ovarian cancer:
How is ovarian cancer detected? What tests can be done?
There is no one simple test to detect ovarian cancer. Diagnosis often involves a range of tests including blood tests, scans and biopsy.
How can women know if they’re at risk of developing the disease?
If a few of your close relatives had breast or ovarian cancer, you may be at risk of ovarian cancer. About 15% of ovarian cancer can be hereditary. Women who inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations have a substantially increased risk of ovarian and breast cancers. If you are concerned that you might be at risk of ovarian cancer, there is a simple questionnaire to help you assess your risk called the “Know Your Risk” Tool from Pink Hope.
The classical symptoms include bloating, feeling unusually full after eating, abdominal discomfort, and feeling easily tired. These symptoms can be vague and there are a number of other health conditions that can cause similar symptoms. However, if the symptoms persist and do not resolve over several weeks, you should see your doctor for investigation. If still concerned request a referral to a gynaecological oncologist.
What can women do today to minimise their risk?
There are several lifestyle approaches that may reduce our risk: avoid tobacco smoking, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid hormone replacement therapy unless medically indicated. Women with a strong family history or inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations should discuss their risk-reducing options with their specialist.