Ovarian Cancer Awareness
Cancer of the ovary affects over 6,500 women in the UK each year. It is the fifth most common cancer among women after breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the uterus (womb). Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have had the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can affect women of any age.
As the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to those of other conditions, it can be difficult to recognise. However, there are early symptoms to look out for, such as persistent bloating, pain in the pelvis and lower stomach and difficulty eating.
If you experience these symptoms, particularly over a long period of time, it is important to see your GP.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise, particularly in early stages of the disease. This is because they are often the same as symptoms of other, less serious, conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). However, three main symptoms are more frequent in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer:
persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
increased abdominal size/persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous
Other symptoms, such as back pain and needing to pass urine more urgently and frequently than normal, may be the result of other conditions in the pelvic area. They are probably not ovarian cancer, but may be present in some women with the disease. If you have any of these symptoms, keep a symptom diary to see how many of these symptoms you have over a longer period.
Bear in mind that ovarian cancer is rare in women under 40 years old. If you regularly have any of these symptoms, talk to your GP. It’s unlikely they are being caused by a serious problem, but it’s best to be checked. If you've already seen your GP and the symptoms continue or get worse, it is important to go back and explain this, as you know your body better than anyone.
Treating ovarian cancer
The best treatment for ovarian cancer depends on several things, such as the stage of your cancer and your general health. Treatment will usually involve a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. As with most types of cancer, the outlook depends largely on how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed and your age at diagnosis. Ninety per cent of women diagnosed with early stage one ovarian cancer will be alive in five years time (the five-year survival rate).
Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer can affect daily life in many ways. However, there is support available for many aspects of living with ovarian cancer including emotional, financial and long-term health issues.
Ovarian cancer screening
There are methods of screening for ovarian cancer but, at the moment, they are not yet fully tested. Screening is only available for women who are at high risk of developing the disease due to a strong family history or inheritance of a particular faulty gene. Clinical trials in the UK are currently assessing the effectiveness of screening in high-risk women and in the general population. A cervical screening test (which used to be called a smear test) cannot detect ovarian cancer.
References: NHS Choices and Cancer Research UK
Further information can be found at the following links: