“Can an Ovarian Cancer go away on its own?”
Mrs. Shalini was very distressed. She had come in for a consultation because an ultrasound scan done as part of a routine health check-up showed that she had a large ovarian mass.
“Doctor, I have been scouring the internet about my condition. I came across a famous website that even describes non-medical techniques to make cancer go away.”
“Mrs Shalini, I will answer your question in detail. But before that, please let me take your detailed history, examine you, look at your scan results in detail, and if required get a few blood tests. Is that OK?”
“But I am scared of surgery. I didn’t even want to come here. I only came because you have operated on my sister-in-law, and my husband insisted that we meet you.”
“No one is talking about surgery just yet. Your sister-in-law had a completely different condition. Just bear with me till we complete your evaluation.”
The next day, we sat down again for a detailed discussion. “Mrs Shalini, you have a large ovarian mass. However, the size of the mass is just one factor to consider. When we evaluate an ovarian mass we look at several things – your age, your menopausal status (pre-menopausal or post-menopausal), any symptoms that you have, any family history of specific cancers, physical examination findings, detailed scan findings (whether the mass involves one ovary or both, whether the mass is solid or cystic, the thickness of the wall in case of a cystic mass, blood flow, etc). In your case, we have also done a few blood tests called tumor markers, which can be elevated in case of a cancerous tumor.
So now, considering your age, the fact that you are pre-menopausal, without any symptoms, a cystic tumor with no suspicious features on the ultrasound scan, and normal tumor marker levels in your blood, it is very unlikely that you have ovarian cancer. You probably have a benign ovarian tumor, which is not the same as ovarian cancer. (see here to know the difference between a tumor and a cancer) In fact, there is a good chance that you just have a functional ovarian cyst that will go away on its own in a few menstrual cycles. For you, I would recommend that we wait for a couple of months, and repeat a scan to see what is happening.”
Two and a half months later, Mrs Shalini was all smiles – a repeat ultraound scan done in the morning had shown that the ovarian tumor had disappeared. This meant that it was just a functional cyst.
After some more discussion, she was reassured and turned to leave. She hesitated. “But what about the website which said ovarian cancer was cured with alternative medical therapies?” she asked.
I smiled. “Mrs Shalini, whether an ovarian mass is benign or cancerous cannot be known until the mass is removed and pathologically evaluated. Unlike in other cancers, we don’t biopsy suspected ovarian cancers before surgery (there are various reasons for this). We operate and remove the tumor completely if the suspicion of cancer is high, or wait and watch if the suspicion is low. When the risk of cancer is high, we recommend surgery since we cannot take a chance and allow potentially curable cancer to progress. But, quite a few suspected ovarian cancers turn out to be benign once they are removed and examined. So no one can claim a “cancer disappeared” without surgery since they were never proven to have cancer in the first place. In fact, if you read their details carefully, it will always turn out that they had an ovarian “tumor” or a “suspected ovarian cancer”, rather than proven cancer.”