Ovarian cancer, often referred to as a “silent killer” because of its lack of specific symptoms, is striking more women in Singapore, with its incidence doubling in the past 30 years.

The age-standardised rate of ovarian cancer in Singapore has increased from 7.3 per 100,000 women per year in 1975-79 to 12.7 per 100,000 women per year in 2010-14, according to the Singapore Cancer Registry 2010-2014.

However, the treatment options for this deadly cancer have also increased. Now a new post-surgery method, known as targeted therapy, can be used in combination with conventional chemotherapy to block the growth of cancer cells.

“On average, more than 343 cases are diagnosed annually and there are about 121 deaths per year. The high mortality is attributed to the fact that ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed in advanced stages,” says Dr Timothy Lim Yong Kuei, Head and Senior Consultant, Pre-invasive Disease and Screening Unit, Department of Gynaecological Oncology, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital sees about 100 to 150 new cases per year. “One of the reasons for an increase over the last three decades is because more women are living longer and having less children,” adds Dr Lim.

Risk factors and symptoms of ovarian cancer

Post-menopausal women over the age of 55 are at higher risk of developing this cancer, the fifth most common women’s cancer in Singapore. Other risk factors include:

  • A strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer (affecting a close relative such as the mother, sister or daughter)
  • Obesity
  • Infertility
  • Having never delivered a baby
  • Endometriosis

Though ovarian cancer does not present with specific symptoms, patients commonly complain of the following:

  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Early satiety
  • Urinary frequency or constipation
  • Abdominal or pelvic discomfort/pain
  • Lump in the abdomen

Find out what’s new in ovarian cancer treatment in the next page.

Ref: S13