Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect and usually only diagnosed after it has spread, reducing five year survival rates from 93% if still contained within the ovaries, down to only 39% or 30% if spread to more distantly.
Be aware of symptoms
The symptoms are often vague and common with other minor health issues so are often dismissed.
You know your body best.
If you experience some of the symptoms listed below a number of times over a month, seek advice from your health practitioner.
It’s a good idea to keep a symptom diary available to down load.
Trust your instincts. If you are concerned and not happy with the response you receive from your practitioner seek a second or third opinion.
Some women incorrectly believe that a pap smear can detect ovarian cancer but is only useful for detecting abnormal cervical cells.
Women with ovarian cancer usually report four of the following symptoms.
More frequent symptoms
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Persistant abdominal bloating or increased abdominal size
- Needing to urinate often or urgently
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Other symptoms (if they are not usual for you)
- Changes in your bowel habits
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Bleeding in-between periods or after menopause
- Back pain
- Indigestion or nausea
- Excessive fatigue
- Pain during intercourse
Research has shown the BRCA1 & BRCA2 gene commonly referred to in breast cancer cases may also increase risk of ovarian cancer .
Although genes affect cancer risk they may be silenced or switched on by “epigenomic” factors. These include both internal and external influences as follows:
- What you eat
- Alcohol intake
- Sleep quality
- Chemical/ pesticide exposure
- Xenoestrogens – substances that mimic oestrogen in the body
- Activity level or sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight
What’s the best treatment? PREVENTION
1. Lose weight
Obesity increases risk . The more fat you have the greater your cancer risk. Fat acts like a hormone in the body increasing oestrogen levels. High oestrogen levels are associated with higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Insulin resistance, common in obesity and increases cancer risk and tumour growth.
2. Move more
Exercise is associated with a reduced risk of cancer and helps improve your weight.
3. Know your family history.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes commonly associated with increased breast cancer risk but may also increase ovarian cancer risk. If there is a history of either of these cancers in your family you may wish to consider testing for these genes.
4. Manage your mental health
Antidepressants and benzodiazepines have been reported in studies to increase risk of ovarian cancer.
Improving diet, sleep, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy techniques can all contribute to better mental health and less need for medication.
5. Improve food quality – Eat the freshest most natural food you can
a) Eat more vegetables and fruit
People who have the lowest intake of vegetables and fruit have twice the risk of developing cancer.
Fruit and vegetables are packed full of cancer protective antioxidants and phytonutrients. The fresher the produce the higher the levels. Ideally buy organic produce from farmers markets or grow your own if you can.
Freshness = higher levels of antioxidants and nutrients neutralize harmful substances and protective against cancer.
In particular broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, leafy green vegetables and garlic shown to reduce ovarian & other gynaecological cancer risks.(1)
b) Drink green tea.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol found in green tea inhibits tumour growth.
c) Eat fatty fish & omega 3 rich foods
Rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids, fatty fish like salmon, mackeral and tuna, and plants like flax and chia seeds help reduce inflammation, identified as a driver of cancer progression.
d) Eat less foods that may increase risk, e.g. smoked, pickled and barbecued meats.
Chargrilled foods cooked at high temperatures causes protein to form of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), that may increase cancer risk.
Fat dripping down onto coals produce smoke containing Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PAH’s, another carcinogen that coats meat.
Don’t want to give up your barbecue? There are ways to reduce exposure.
Grill at a lower temperatures on the hot plate not the open grill to reduce exposure to PAH containing smoke formed from fat dripping flare ups .
Marinade meat or add herbs or spices, e.g. turmeric, rosemary, garlic, pepper, oregano (rich in antioxidants) to your meat including patties. Researchers at Kansas State University & the Food Science Institute tested a number of different marinades against meat without marinade cooked at 400oF (200oC) with significant reductions in HCAs produced.
Eat broccoli with your barbecued meat. Rich in isothiocyanates, broccoli increases and improves excretion of carcinogenic substances like HCAs.
e) Reduce intake of nitrates
Foods containing nitrates such as bacon, ham, salami and smoked fish have been associated with increased cancer risk. Keep these as occasional foods rather than for every day
f) Moderate alcohol intake to no more than 1-2 drinks per day. Although modest alcohol intake may have some health benefits and a correlation between alcohol and ovarian cancer has not been found to date keeping alcohol intake low would be prudent as high alcohol intake increases other cancers such as breast cancer.
g) Limit exposure to foods sprayed with pesticides
Higher levels of pesticides detected in women with ovarian and other gynaecological cancers. However, the benefits of high fruit and vegetable intake outweighs risks from pesticide exposure. If you can’t afford to buy only organic produce check out my post on the “Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen”
h) Moderate overall fat intake and include smaller amounts of animal fats
Women with the highest fat intake, particularly those from animal fats had higher rates of ovarian cancer
i) Avoid transfats
Trans fats, a synthetically produced fat commonly in commercial foods to increase shelf life, e.g. solid margerines, (like “Crisco”), commercial pies, pastries, biscuits & cakes. Found in any product that contains partially hydrogenated oils (even if it doesn’t say trans fats on the label)
Reduce inflammation: A driver of disease
j) Avoid fried foods
Reduce intake of commercial industrial seed oils high in omega 6 EFAs, e.g.Seed oils like sunflower oil & other supermarket oils that are not cold pressed.
Omega 6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required for good health but most Western Diets contain too much omega 6 relative to omega 3 consumed. Too much omega 6 increases inflammation. (5)
k) Avoid rancid oxidised oils – Oils are a fresh food and will oxidise if exposured to high heat and oxygen, particularly polyunsaturated fats. Oxidised oils (fats) promote cancer (and heart disease). Check packing dates. Buy in smaller containers and use within a month of opening. Avoid heating to high temperatures. Store nuts & seeds in sealed glass containers in fridge.
Switch off your electronics at least 1 hour before bed & improve sleep.
Melatonin is released at night to help you sleep but the blue light emitted by electronics like laptops, tablets and smart phones interferes with melatonin secretion. Shift workers and low melatonin levels linked to greater oestrogen dependent cancers.
Feed your gut bacteria
A healthy digestive micro biome (that’s the bacteria that reside in your gut) improves immunity and helps prevent a leaky gut allowing inflammatory factors to enter the body.
- World Cancer Research Fund, 2007 “Food, nutrition, physical activity and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective.