March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. We want to take this opportunity to help raise awareness of the disease, because as with many cancers, early detection is key to maximising life expectancy.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
The most common symptoms are:
- Constantly feeling bloated
- Having a swollen tummy
- Stomach or pelvic discomfort
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Loss of appetite
- Needing to urinate more often, or more urgently than normal
Less common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Persistent indigestion
- Persistently feeling sick
- Pain during sex
- A change in bowel habits
- Back pain
- Vaginal bleeding (particularly after the menopause)
- Constantly feeling tired
- Unintended weight loss
Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late because the symptoms are hard to spot. It is therefore vital that women are aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and seek medical help at the earliest opportunity.
Delays in receiving proper treatment can drastically reduce the chances of making a full recovery, which can be devastating for the patient, their family and their friends.
When should I see my GP about ovarian cancer?
The NHS say you should see your GP if:
- You have been feeling bloated, particularly more than 12 times a month
- You have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that will not go away – especially if you’re over 50 or have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, as you may be at a higher risk.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Your GP will probably start by talking to you about your symptoms. If they have any concerns, they will arrange a hospital referral for further investigations.
At hospital they might carry out any of the following investigations:
- Blood tests
- Ultrasound scan
- CT scan
- Laparoscopy (to examine the ovaries internally, with a camera).
What treatment is there for ovarian cancer?
Following an early diagnosis, the usual treatment is surgery to remove the ovaries or a full hysterectomy, as well as a course of chemotherapy. This combination is successful in treating many women who receive an early diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Sadly, where detection is late, the only option might be palliative, or end of life care.
What charities support people with ovarian cancer in the UK?
Target Ovarian Cancer is a charity that campaigns to raise awareness of this condition and to influence politicians and decision-makers across the UK to transform awareness, diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer.
Facts about ovarian cancer
How many people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year?
More than 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year.
How many people die from ovarian cancer every year?
Over 4,000 women die from ovarian cancer every year.
How do the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes relate to ovarian cancer?
Inherited faults in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes dramatically increase a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer.
What are the chances of surviving ovarian cancer?
The chances of surviving for five years or more doubles from 46%, to more than 90% with an early diagnosis. This is why it is so important to know the signs and symptoms.