September marks Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month. That’s why we want everyone to learn more about gynaecological cancers, the signs and symptoms, where to find support and how you can help fund lifesaving research.
Gynaecological cancers are cancers that occur in or on female reproductive organs and genitals. Types of gynaecological cancers include cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, vagina and vulva.
In recognition of this month, here are 6 things you should know about ovarian cancer.
1. What is ovarian cancer?
Most cases of ovarian cancer start in one or both ovaries, the fallopian tubes or the peritoneum The cells become abnormal, grow out of control and form a lump called a tumour. Cancer of the fallopian tube was once thought to be rare, but recent research suggests that many ovarian cancers start in the fallopian tubes.
2. Anyone can get ovarian cancer
Each year, about 1720 Australians are diagnosed with ovarian cancer – this includes serous carcinomas of the fallopian tube. Over 80% of people diagnosed are over the age of 50, but ovarian cancer can occur at any age. It is the 9th most common cancer in females in Australia.
Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, so it mostly affects women. Transgender men and intersex people can also get ovarian cancer if they have ovaries. For information specific to you, speak to your doctor.
3. Types of ovarian cancer
There are many types of ovarian cancer. The three main types start in different cells: epithelial, stromal or germ cells.
4. Getting older is one of the risk factors for ovarian cancer
The causes of ovarian cancer are largely unknown, but factors that can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer include:
age – ovarian cancer is most common in women over 50 women who have stopped having periods (have been through menopause), and the risk increases with age
genetic factors – up to 20% of serious ovarian cancers (the most common subtype) are linked to an inherited faulty gene
family history – having one or more close blood relatives (e.g. mother, sister) diagnosed with ovarian, breast, bowel or uterine cancers, or having Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
reproductive history – women who have not had children, who have had assisted reproduction (e.g. in-vitro fertilisation or IVF), or who have had children after the age of 35 may be slightly more at risk
smoking or beingoverweight – linked to some types of ovarian cancer
hormonal factors – such as early puberty or late menopause
To confirm the diagnosis, tissue from the tumour needs to be checked under a microscope. This tissue can be obtained with a biopsy (piece of tissue or fluid sample from the abdomen) or at the time of surgery.
Sometimes ovarian cancer is diagnosed before it causes symptoms. This is usually when abnormalities are found during tests or procedures for another health condition.