- Australian swimmer Ariarne Elizabeth Titmus has opened up about the “scary” health issue she recently dealt with.
- The 23-year-old Olympic champion and world record holder had two benign tumors found on her right ovary when doctors were looking into an ongoing hip injury.
- According to a journal published in the National Library of Medicine, ovarian dermoid cysts, or mature cystic teratomas (MCT), “are the most common benign ovarian tumor in adults and adolescents” and make up 70% of benign masses found in women before menopause, as well as and 20% of women after menopause.
- Coping with a diagnosis, whether it turns out to be cancer or just a scare, like in Titmus’ case, can be one of the toughest moments a person can experience.
- Dr. Shelly Tworoger, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center told SurvivorNet that “there’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation.” Fortunately, your care team can help you navigate your emotional health by turning you to resources to help you along your cancer journey and beyond.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist and four-time World Champion had the realization when she doctors discovered a tumor on her right ovary when looking into an ongoing hip injury.
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“For a while, I’ve been managing an ongoing hip injury, and 3 weeks ago I had an MRI to suss out exactly what was going on. Sure enough, there was a little something with the hip of which is completely manageable,” she explained.
“However, it was something else that the doctors picked up on that made everything else seem irrelevant. A large growth was found on my right ovary.”
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The informative social media post, shared on Friday, followed the 5-foot-10, blonde-haired swimmer’s successful surgery just one day before.
She also detailed how frightening the experience was, thinking about how it could affect her fertility.
“I’d give up anything in the world to be a mother, it’s my biggest dream … so this was a scary time for me. Of course in these moments you think of the worst case scenario, and I was petrified of potentially losing the ovary or there being implications that could affect me and my desire to have children one day,” she added.
“However, I am one of the lucky ones. My ovary was 8.5×7cm in size and contained 2 benign tumors called dermoids, both 4cm in size. Yesterday I had surgery and they were removed safely. Im feeling well and relieved they are out.”
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Titmus ultimately admitted it’s “tough” being both a woman and an athlete.
“In the past month I’ve learnt more about my body and what it is capable of. I’ve learnt that being fit and healthy doesn’t mean you’re immune to these things,” she continued.
“I feel blessed that I found these tumors before they got even bigger and started to have real implications on my health. Thank you to my family and those close to me for being there as support during a bit of a scary time.”
After giving thanks to the doctors who removed her tumors, which she’s dubbed her little “gremlins,” she said she’ll be resting and recovering for the next few weeks.
Learning About Ovarian Dermoid Tumors
According to a journal published in the National Library of Medicine, ovarian dermoid cysts, or mature cystic teratomas (MCT), “are the most common benign ovarian tumor in adults and adolescents” and make up 70% of benign masses found in women before menopause, as well as and 20% of women after menopause.
“They are characterized by adult ectodermal, mesodermal, and endodermal tissue and can contain skin, hair, teeth, fat and muscle, and even thyroid and brain tissue,” the journal explains.
Meanwhile, University of Colorado Gynecologic Oncology, explains that benign ovarian tumors are “slow-growing solid masses in or on a woman’s ovary.”
“Ovarian tumors are most often benign, however, some types may develop into ovarian cancer if left untreated,” the University of Colorado Gynecologic Oncology’s website says, adding, “Symptoms are rare and tumors are usually detected during a routine pelvic exam or Pap test. Treatment typically involves surgical removal of the tumor and sometimes the surrounding tissue or the affected ovary. Fertility is often preserved after treatment.”
Understanding Ovarian Cancer
Although Titmus’ tumors on her ovary weren’t cancerous, it is likely they could come back or that cancerous tumors could develop.
Ovarian cancer is when the ovaries which produce the sex hormone, estrogen, as well as eggs become cancerous. Women have two ovaries, one on either side of the uterus.
The fallopian tube, which brings the egg from the ovary to the uterus for fertilization, is actually where many ovarian cancers begin. First, a few cancerous cells develop on the fallopian tubes, then these cells stick to the ovaries as the fallopian tubes brush over the ovary. From there, the cancerous cells grow to form a tumor.
Your risk for ovarian cancer may be increased if you have:
- gone through menopause
- have a gene mutation like BRCA1 or BRCA2
- are obese or overweight
- had your first pregnancy after age 35 or never carried a pregnancy to full-term
- have a family history of cancer
- used hormone replacement therapy
You should speak with your doctor about your potential risk for the disease.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer has been called the “cancer that whispers,” because women often don’t experience symptoms until their cancer has already reached its late stages. The symptoms that do appear at first are hard to identify as cancer.
According to the medical oncologists SurvivorNet has interviewed, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can include a feeling of bloating or fullness, pain in the pelvis or abdomen, nausea, vomiting, or changes in bowel habits.
Any of these can be similar to symptoms many women experience monthly with their menstrual cycle, which makes distinguishing this cancer so difficult.
Additional ovarian cancer symptoms can include:
- Bleeding from the vagina (especially after menopause)
- Unusual discharge from the vagina
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis
- Belly or back pain
- Feeling full too quickly, or having difficulty eating
- A change in urinary or bowel habits, such as a more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
- Extreme fatigue
- Pain during sex
If these symptoms are new for you, or they don’t go away after a week or so, call your doctor and schedule an appointment.
Handling a Diagnosis
Coping with a diagnosis, whether it turns out to be cancer or just a scare, like in Titmus’ case, can be one of the toughest moments a person can experience.
Dr. Shelly Tworoger, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center told SurvivorNet that “there’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation.”
Cancer can weigh heavily emotionally just as much as the disease impacts the body physically. Fortunately, your care team can help you navigate your emotional health by turning you to resources to help you along your cancer journey and beyond.
It’s important to know that receiving a cancer diagnosis is shocking for anyone. Experts recommend being kind to yourself after getting a diagnosis and avoiding any temptation to blame yourself for the disease.
Oncologists we’ve spoken to have also stressed the importance of learning about your disease and not being afraid to ask questions or seek out second opinions.
Dr. Heather Yeo, a colorectal cancer surgeon at Weill Cornell Medicine, previously opened up with SurvivorNet about the diagnosis conversation with patients.
“I think it’s really important for them to be able to hear it multiple times, to take notes,” Dr. Yeo said. “Oftentimes, if a patient doesn’t have a family member with them, I’ll offer to call their family member afterward because you can hear something from your surgeon and not remember all the details.”
Dr. Yeo added, “I support second opinions. I actually think it’s really important. I mean, if you think about it in life, how do you choose someone to cut your hair? You get an opinion, right?
“You usually don’t just go in and sit down with the first person you see on the street and say, cut my hair. You ask around and you try. If a patient has any questions, I support second opinions 100%.”
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff