Health bosses in Peterborough are raising awareness of the symptoms associated with ovarian cancer during March, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women with 7,000 cases diagnosed every year.
Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women and common symptoms include:
feeling constantly bloated
a swollen tummy
discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
feeling full quickly when eating
needing to pee more often than normal
The symptoms aren’t always easy to recognise because they’re similar to those of some more common conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). However, the symptoms will be frequent, persistent and new to you as a patient.
You should see your GP if:
you’ve been feeling bloated most days for the last three weeks
you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that won’t go away
you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it
It’s unlikely you have cancer, but it’s best to check and your GP can do some simple tests to see if you might have it.
Dr Uma Balasubramaniam, Clinical Lead for Gynaecology, NHS South Lincolnshire CCG said:
“Currently there is no simple test to diagnose ovarian cancer. Early symptoms of ovarian cancer can include persistent bloating, pain in the pelvis and lower stomach, and difficulty eating. These general symptoms are not specific to ovarian cancer and there are lots of other (less worrying) possibilities including IBS, but if you experience these symptoms, particularly over a period of several months, then arrange an appointment with your GP to discuss your situation in more detail.
The sad fact is that most women are diagnosed after the ovarian cancer has spread, making it more difficult and complex to treat so spotting the signs and acting quickly is critical.”
If you’ve already seen your GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, your GP may refer you to a genetics specialist to discuss the option of genetic testing to check your ovarian cancer risk.
Stuart Morgan, from Uffington, who’s wife Angie died of ovarian cancer in 2015 said:
“There is no national screening programme for ovarian cancer and the current clinical test is not great at early diagnosis. Also a UK study has shown only 3% of women are very confident at spotting if they have ovarian cancer symptoms. This all helps to explain why the five-year ovarian cancer survival rate is just 43%. If this vague cancer were diagnosed at the earliest stage, up to 90% of women would survive 5 years or more. A screening programme and new clinical test are some way off therefore raising women’s awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms offers the best chance of improving earlier diagnosis and survival rates.
That’s why the March initiative supported by South Lincolnshire CCG to use Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to inform women of the symptoms is so important. If a woman feels she has any of the symptoms she should press her GP for a blood test and ultrasound. If the tests are inconclusive but the symptoms persist she should keep going back. It may sound unfair to put the onus on her, particularly as she may be feeling very anxious, but her own symptom awareness really is the best first line of defence. This initiative can only help.”
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, however some things may increase a woman’s risk of getting it, such as:
being over 50 years of age
a family history of ovarian or breast cancer – this could mean you’ve inherited genes that increase your cancer risk
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – although any increase in cancer risk is likely to be very small
Endometroisis – a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb
The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on things such as how far the cancer has spread and your general health. The main treatments are:
surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible – this will often involve removing both ovaries, the womb and the tubes connecting them to each other (fallopian tubes)
chemotherapy (where medicine is used to kill cancer cells) – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer
Treatment will aim to cure the cancer whenever possible. If the cancer has spread too far to be cured, the aim is to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.
The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure, but often it’s not recognised until it has already spread. Cancer Research UK has more information about the survival statistics for ovarian cancer.