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Protective vaginal bacteria and risk of ovarian cancer, is there a link?

Readers Lounge By Esther Muchene
More and more research is being done on the link between healthy vaginal bacteria and ovarian cancer (Photo: Shutterstock)

As more and more case studies on cancer are carried out, the more doctors are beginning to understand this disease that continues to rob us of great men and women.

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For those who have had suspicions about the link between vaginal bacteria and ovarian cancer you will find this particular read quite an eye opener.

While it may not be the best news to deliver, it is worth knowing the truth no matter how bad it hurts.

Ovarian Cancer

As the name suggests, ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries. On most occasions, the disease often goes undetected until it has spread within the abdomen and pelvis. At this later stage, ovarian cancer is complex and challenging to treat. In the early stages, ovarian cancer is confined and concentrated to the ovary and can be treated successfully. Treatments at this stage would include chemotherapy and surgery which would be the most effective approach.

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. However, certain factors increase a woman's risk. For example, family history, old age, inherited gene mutations and a woman’s reproductive history.

Symptoms

What makes this cancer difficult to treat is the fact that early stage ovarian cancer seldom has any symptoms. However, advanced stage cancer has a few and specific symptoms which can be mistaken at the beginning with common benign conditions.

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Signs and symptoms to look out for include:

i. Discomfort in the pelvis area

ii. Weight loss

iii. Abdominal swelling or bloating

iv. Frequent need to urinate

v. Feeling full frequently even after eating

Proper and timely diagnosis improves a person's chances of successful treatment. However, symptoms such as discomfort and bloating can be mistaken for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or menstrual cramps. Unfortunately many women are often diagnosed after the cancer has already started spreading.

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Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer can lead to successful treatment (Photo: Shutterstock)

Protective Vaginal Bacteria

An excellent example is a vaginal microbiota or vaginal flora, the microorganisms which colonize the vagina. Scientifically, these viruses are known as Lactobacilli, and the levels are significantly lower in women that had high risk ovarian cancer genes. Women can use Lactobacilli as an indicator for monitoring the changes in the ovarian cancer risk since this will help them make informed decisions.

Linkage

There is a link between protective vaginal bacteria and the risk of ovarian cancer. According to scientists, having low levels of healthy bacteria in the vagina increases a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer. The vaginal microbiome, which are the microorganisms that live inside the vagina are risk factors for gynaecological cancer alongside factors such as family history, age, and obesity.

Therefore, there is a need for women to maintain a healthy microbiome due to ovarian cancer risk. It is of essence to prevent common infections such as BV and thrush. The microbiome is an interesting area and it reveals several factors that could indicate risk of ovarian cancer and the different things that make up the vaginal bacteria. The elements coexist and are inseparable.

All in all, current research has shown that women who have lower levels of vaginal bacteria are at risk of developing ovarian cancer.

What it means

The link between vaginal bacteria and these factors might directly have an effect on the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, the study is still in its initial stages and more is required to have a better understanding of how the vaginal microbiome does contribute to ovarian cancer and establish better ways that the disease can be detected.

Therefore, it is crucial for women to become aware of the symptoms and go for occasional check-ups.

While more in depth research is still going on, women should adhere to protective measures until approved methods and interventions that can reduce the risk are discovered.

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