Sexual Health and Wellness


Features Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose, often referred to as the “silent killer”, as there are few symptoms until the final stage of the disease. Symptoms do not occur until the tumor has grown large enough to apply pressure to other organs in the abdomen, or until the cancer has spread to remote organs. The symptoms are nonspecific, meaning they could be due to many different conditions. The only early symptom is menstrual irregularity, but again this can be nonspecific as well. The following nonspecific symptoms that may be experience on a later stage are: Lower abdominal/pelvic pain or pressure;

  • Pain during intercourse;
  • Abdominal bloating and swelling;
  • Frequent urination;
  • Constipation;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Feeling full after having little to eat;
  • Increased passing of gas or diarrhea; (changing in your bowl movement)
  • Irregular and abnormal menstrual cycle;
  • Abnormal hair growth (tumors sometimes secretes extra hormones that may increase hair growth is specific areas).

Epidemiology Cancer occurs when cells undergo a transformation and begin to grow and multiply without normal controls. As the cells grow and multiply, they form masses called tumors. Ovarian cancer occurs when a tumor or mass forms in one or both of a women’s ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of small organs that produce and release ova/ovum, better known as eggs sells. Another function of the ovaries is to produce the much needed hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. They are located in the lower abdomen/pelvis, on both sides of the uterus, better known as the womb. Ova released by the ovaries travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where they may or may not be fertilized by the male sperm. Cancerous tumors are malignant. This means they spread to other tissues and organs. Not all tumors are malignant. According to various studies, 95 % of ovarian cancer has no identifiable cause, but family history was definitely identified as a role player. According to CANSA, the latest statistics indicate that 1 in 297 women are diagnosed with this cancer in South Africa. If one relative, with first degree ovarian cancer – a mother, sister, or daughter – is diagnosed, the risk for other female relatives will increase to 3-5 %. The risk can further increase to 50 % if 2 first-degree relatives are diagnoses with ovarian cancer. If a woman has ovarian cancer and her daughter develops ovarian cancer, the daughter will probably develop the cancer at a relatively young age (younger than 60 years). Ovarian cancer is more common in women who live in developed countries as well as for those women who have gone through the menopause cycle. Ovarian cancer may be less common in women who have:

  • Used the contraceptive pill;
  • Had children – the more children, the lower the risk;
  • Breastfed their children;
  • Had a hysterectomy.

Causes The causes of ovarian cancer are not clear to the medical profession, but there are a few factors that make it more likely. A known factor is that the faulty inherited genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of ovarian cancer as well as in breast cancer. However, having a close relative – mother, sister or daughter – with ovarian cancer doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a faulty inherited gene in your family. The cancers could have happened by chance. Other factors that are thought to make ovarian cancer more likely include:

  • Intake of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – especially taking HRT for longer than five years;
  • Being overweight or obese; (in pre-menopausal women)
  • Endometriosis;
  • Smoking;
  • Starting your menstrual cycle at an early age (11 years of younger) and having your menopause late (55 years and above).

Fertility treatment (treatment that assists in falling pregnant) is no longer considered a risk factor after recent research ruled out the link. Because many lesbian women have never taken a contraceptive pill, or had children, or breastfed or had a hysterectomy, they are naturally at a higher risk for ovarian cancer. The high incidence of obesity and smoking among SA lesbian women are seen as risk factors too. CANSA offers the following tips to all women on how to detect women’s cancers early: Cervical cancer – go for a Pap smear every two to three years if you are sexually active. Pap Smears are offered at the OUT LGBT Wellbeing’s Clinic, 1081 Pretorius Street, Hatfield, Pretoria. Contact Elmie @ (012) 430 3272 Breast cancer – do Breast Self Examination (BSE) every 7 to 10 days after your period. Repeat monthly within same time interval. Have a mammogram yearly after age 40. Ovarian cancer – Be aware of the risk factors: hormone replacement therapy after menopause, obesity, strong family history of cancer. Have regular medical check-ups.