The Health Index
Changes in the ovaries do not always have to be cancer and are, in fact, usually benign. For example, cysts on the ovaries are much more common than ovarian cancer. Also, only one fifth of ovarian tumours are malignant. The likelihood of a malignant tumour increases with age.
Ovarian cancer can be hereditary and runs in families. In the early stages it usually does not cause any symptoms, which is why the tumours are often detected quite late. If possible, ovarian cancer is completely removed in one operation. The operation is almost always followed by chemotherapy
What are the causes?
Some women have a genetic predisposition for ovarian tumours. About one in ten cases of ovarian cancer are hereditary. The predisposition can be caused by mutations in the BRCA gene, which increases the risk of not just ovarian, but also breast cancer. The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases significantly with age. The average age of onset of the disease is 69 years.
However, this type of cancer rarely occurs in women under 50. Women over 50 years of age in particular should therefore watch out for possible signs (see below). Being overweight is also a risk factor for ovarian cancer. The likelihood of developing ovarian cancer increases in women who are receiving hormone replacement therapy during and/or after menopause and decreases again once the treatment is stopped. Women who are going through menopause should therefore discuss the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy carefully with their doctor.
On the other hand, the risk of developing this kind of tumour is reduced in women who have had children. If women of child-bearing age take the contraceptive pill, their risk of getting ovarian cancer is also reduced. Breastfeeding can also reduce the risk.
What are the symptoms?
In its early stages, ovarian cancer does not usually cause any symptoms. Because of that, ovarian cancer is often detected rather late. However, the following symptoms can still be an indication of ovarian cancer and - especially women over 50 years of age and women with a genetic predisposition - should definitely get them checked out by a gynaecologist:
Bleeding outside the regular menstrual period (menstruation)
Bleeding after menopause
Recurrent or persistent bloating or abdominal pain, frequent or persistent bloating or other abdominal discomfort
Generally feeling unwell
It is important to remember that these symptoms often have harmless causes - but they should still be taken seriously, and the cause should be clarified by a doctor. Sometimes they are the only sign of a malignant disease.
How can a nutrition practitioner help?
There is a genetic predisposition for ovarian cancer, but it is now known that having a gene does for a disease does not mean that the disease will manifest itself. That only happens if the gene is expressed, i.e. whether it is “switched on”. There is a whole new field of research – epigenetics – that is looking into which factors affect gene expression. We already know that it depends very much on diet and lifestyle choices, and in any case: a good diet and healthy lifestyle will not do any harm.
Overweight and obesity are also implicated in ovarian cancer. Abdominal fat secretes oestrogen and contributes to elevated oestrogen levels. Your nutrition practitioner can guide and coach you during your weight loss. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and are being treated, your nutrition practitioner will work alongside your medical team.
Knowing how, what and when to eat while on cancer treatment can have a considerable impact on how you feel during treatment. A nutritional approach always depends on the individual case but may focus on diet and lifestyle interventions generally used to prevent or manage inflammation, which may help reduce pain and speed up recovery. A nutrition practitioner will ask questions about your overall health and health history, diet, lifestyle and exercise habits.
They will look at your food diary to see where there may be room for improvement. Your nutrition practitioner may also recommend functional testing. They will then develop a customised diet, supplement and lifestyle plan for you.