Could You Recognise The Signs Of Ovarian Cancer?

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day.

Each year on May 8th, women living with ovarian cancer, their families and supporters, along with patient advocacy organisations from around the world, come together to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. World Ovarian Cancer Day (WOCD) is the one day of the year we all raise our voices in solidarity across the world in the fight against this disease.

Why? Well, it's a lesser known cancer – and it's a biggie with the lowest survival rate of all female cancers. Every year 7,300 women in the UK are diagnosed with the illness. In that same time span, 4,100 women will lose their lives to it.

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Most women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread, making it more difficult to treat. There are often delays in diagnosing ovarian cancer because there is no early detection test, and symptoms are often confused with symptoms of other less severe illnesses, particularly IBS.

Awareness isn't great. One in five UK women wrongly believes a smear test can detect ovarian cancer – with this confusion meaning that women may be at risk of ignoring the symptoms until it’s too late. This rises to nearly one third of younger women aged 18-24. The majority of cases occur in woman over 50, but a significant minority of 17% are under this age.

According to Professor Gordon Rustin, Consultant Medical Oncologist at BMI Bishops Wood Hospital, the symptoms of ovarian cancer tend to be not all that different from those reported in relation to other, more common problems, which probably goes some way to explain why 70% of the women from the survey who had experienced symptoms of ovarian cancer, had not sought medical help. "They are similar to the symptoms from many common non-cancerous conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion or menstrual problems," he says.

As with all cancers, early diagnosis is always best, but this is especially the case with ovarian cancer, where the majority of stage 1 cases can actually be successfully treated. "Once it has spread, though," warns Professor Rustin, "the majority cannot unfortunately be cured. I see some women who had symptoms for a year or more and one wonders whether if they had had an ultrasound scan or CA125 blood test earlier they might have been diagnosed when still stage 1."


So what are the symptoms? 

The key signs to look out for are persistent bloatingfeeling full all of the time or loss of appetite, needing to wee a lot and urgent stomach pains.

However, bloating and swelling of the abdomen is something that most women experience around once a month anyway, during their period. So how are you supposed to know when it's something more sinister? "The big difference between bloating or swollen abdomen associated with menstruation is that with menstruation it is related to the menstrual cycle and rarely lasts for more than a few days, while with cancer it gets progressively worse and requires investigation if it lasts for more than than one to two weeks."

Professor Rustin also says that pain during sex could be a sign. This could manifest itself as a "deep tenderness or sometimes more severe and sharp". Constipation may be a symptom, too, if the patient hasn't been troubled by it before and it "cannot be explained by a change in diet."

 
PHOTO: MEGAN MADDEN for Refinery 29 UK

PHOTO: MEGAN MADDEN for Refinery 29 UK

 

WHAT ARE OVARIAN CANCER RISK FACTORS?

Age - Your risk increases as you get older.

Family History - Your risk increases if you have a family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial or colorectal cancer.

Ethnicity - Jewish women of Eastern European background have a higher risk.

Genetic mutations - Your risk is higher if you have a certain genetic mutation associated with ovarian cancer, such as BRCA gene mutations.

Reproductive history - Your risk is higher if you have NOT delivered children.

Hormone replacement - Your risk may be higher if you have taken hormone replacement.

Other factors - Your risk may be higher if you have a history of a condition called endometriosis.


Treatment tends to look like surgery, to remove the tumour. This may be followed up by chemo. A fresh way of dealing with the disease, a drug called Niraparib, which works by stopping cancer cells from repairing themselves was approved for use in England, Scotland and Wales in summer 2018, and was just given the go-ahead for Northern Ireland, so that may come into play in some cases.

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Ovarian cancer is overlooked and underfunded – yet every woman in the world is at risk of developing this disease. That is why World Ovarian Cancer Day is so important!

HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED WITH WOCD? Participating in WOCD couldn’t be easier! Everything you need to know to get involved is here.

If you're worried about anything you might be showing then please, contact your GP.