Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death in women worldwide. As with any cancer, early diagnosis leads to a higher chance of survival. And that’s what 18-year-old Simran Qureshi wanted to do with Project Zindagi — spread awareness about ovarian cancer and provide women of all economic backgrounds an opportunity to get the CA 125 test at a subsidised cost. Here’s everything we learnt from her during her visit at Mashion HQ.
The Testing Process
Due to unclear symptoms, detecting ovarian cancer early on is not easy. Approximately 20% of ovarian cancer cases are found at an early stage. Screening tests are usually recommended to detect cancer in women who have no symptoms, but for ovarian cancer, even after thorough research, there hasn’t been much success so far. Currently, the two most credible tests to screen ovarian cancer are transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test – a protein that’s found when tumours are present in the body. If the protein antigen CA-125 is present in your blood at an increased level, you may be at risk of developing ovarian cancer. If you test positive, the next step is to get an ultrasound. However, the CA-125 alone cannot identify ovarian cancer as menstruation, endometriosis or ovarian cysts can also cause an increase of CA-125 levels as well.
The Right Age To Get Checked
Having a family history of ovarian cancer puts you at a higher risk, so if your family members have had ovarian cancer, please note it is extremely important for you to get tested. However, even if you don’t have a history, you can still get cancer. When you hit your mid-40s get checked regularly as the chances for developing ovarian cancer are higher in women over 40 years old.
The Risk Factors
Ovarian cancer develops when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to multiply uncontrollably and form a tumour. If left untreated, the tumour can spread to other parts of the body. However, the detection of this cancer at an early stage is extremely challenging for the cause remains unknown. However, some factors that are considered risky include having a family history of cancer, being overweight, never being pregnant, having endometriosis or a history of breast cancer. Simran also adds, being middle-aged and having the BRCA-1 or BRCA gene mutation are possibly the biggest risk factors of ovarian cancer.
Signs To Watch Out For
Signs that may indicate the presence of ovarian cancer are swelling in the abdomen, pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, back, or legs, constant fatigue, urinating frequently, bloating, shortness of breath, extreme weight loss and gain and heavy periods or unusual post-menopausal bleeding.
Don’t Ignore An Ovarian Cyst
Among various symptoms of ovarian cancer, one that should not be ignored is an ovarian cyst. According to Simran, they can turn into cancer even after many years. Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form in the ovaries. While the majority of ovarian cysts are benign, follicular cysts may disappear without a woman even knowing she had one. But not always. Cysts in pre-menopausal women can produce symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer. A cyst may indicate ovarian cancer when you experience pelvic pain, extreme abdomen bloating along with other symptoms mentioned above.
PCOS Doesn’t Lead To Ovarian Cancer
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder, which causes irregular periods and fertility issues. While PCOS increases the risk of some types of cancer, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t lead to ovarian cancer. Women with PCOS may be at higher risk of developing cancer of endometrium – the inside lining of the uterus. Irregular periods can cause the endometrium to build up and become thick which can lead to endometrial cancer. Simran says: “PCOS is linked to an increased risk of breast and endometrium cancer, but not ovarian cancer.”
The Case Of The Broiler Chicken
It is believed that the consumption of broiler chicken can cause a number of hormonal problems, such as PCOS and an unbalanced menstrual cycle – and while doctors all over the country recommend against broiler chicken, consuming organic chicken is perfectly fine. Simran denies any link between poultry consumption and ovarian cancer. Meta-analyses of prospective cohort and case-control studies have found no association between poultry consumption and risk of bladder, breast, colorectal, endometrial, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and renal cancers. However, high chicken consumption, particularly during adolescence, may increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
The Chances Of Ovarian Cancer After A Oophorectomy
A oophorectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the ovaries. This can diminish the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, according to our expert, if you have the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene mutation, you can develop other types of cancer but not specifically ovarian cancer if you’ve gotten them removed.
It’s Prevalence In Pakistan
In Pakistan, ovarian cancer is increasing at an alarming rate. After breast cancer, ovarian is the most common type of cancer among Pakistani women. In 2016, at International Awareness Symposium on Gynaecology – a collaborative session organised by Ziauddin University and Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) – it was revealed that around 13.6% of women in Pakistan have suffered from the disease, 70% being diagnosed at later stages. Simran adds that ovarian cancer is the fourth most malignant tumour in Pakistan.
How Does Project Zindagi Help?
Founded by Simran, Project Zindagi spreads awareness about early detection and screening for ovarian cancer in Pakistan. They provide CA-125 tests at subsidised costs. Instead of Rs3000, the cost is subsidised to Rs700 for the underprivileged. It’s free for those who can’t afford. If the tests are positive, the patients are then sent for further tests and treatment.