Ovarian Cancer is known as the ‘silent killer’ because it’s difficult to detect in its early stages. Symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions and currently, there is no screening test for women, which means that many women are diagnosed at a later stage.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more than 1500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019, while 1046 Australian women are expected to die from the disease this year.
But perhaps the most concerning thing about ovarian cancer is the lack of awareness and the misconceptions that circulate in the public sphere that can give women a false sense of security. Here, we debunk a few of the biggest myths:
1. Pap smears can detect ovarian cancer. False.
The Pap test was recently replaced by a new Cervical Screening Test in Australia. Women who are aged 25-74 years of age and/or have been sexually active should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years until the age of 74. However, this test does not look for ovarian cancer. “Both are gynaecological cancers, but they do have different anatomical locations and different outcomes for patients,” says Dr Kristina Warton from the University of New South Wales. Transvaginal ultrasounds, pelvic exams and blood tests measuring the amount of a protein called CA-125 in the blood are the most common tests used to diagnose ovarian cancer.
2. The HPV vaccine will protect against ovarian cancer. False.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects against nine types of the virus which cause about 90 per cent of cervical cancers. However, it doesn’t help to protect the body against ovarian cancer. “It seems a common misconception that ovarian cancer is prevented by the HPV vaccine,” says Dr Warton. “This likely stems from the confusion between cervical cancer, which is in fact prevented by the HPV vaccine and detected by Pap smears, and ovarian cancer, for which there isn’t a vaccine or a detection test.”
3. BRCA only increases your risk of breast cancer, not ovarian cancer. False
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that can inherit mutations increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Krystal Barter Founder of Pink Hope a preventative health hub says “if you have had/have ovarian cancer or have family history of the disease you should consider genetic testing. It could empower you with lifesaving knowledge that could lead to more personalised treatments and risk reduction options”.
To find out more about your risk of ovarian cancer, visit Pink Hope.