Ovarian cancer: Early signs to spot that 90 percent women are unaware ofMay 27, 2022
Thousands of people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in the UK but around 90 percent of women are unaware of the main symptoms, meaning it is often diagnosed at a later stage.
Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, eventually forming into a tumour.
If the disease is left untreated, the cancer cells gradually grow into surrounding tissues, and may spread to other areas of the body. This is known as metastatic ovarian cancer.
Getting diagnosed at an early stage means that treatment is more likely to be successful.
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer
The Ovarian Cancer Action charity has highlighted the tell-tale signs to look out for, especially in those aged 50 and above.
The most common symptoms are as follows:
- Persistent stomach pain
- Persistent bloating
- Difficulty eating and feeling full more quickly
- Needing to wee more frequently
Additional red flag symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovary syndrome, a change in bowel habits, fatigue and back pain.
It is important to note that these symptoms are not always due to ovarian cancer.
Unlike cervical, bowel and breast cancers, there is still no reliable, effective screening method for ovarian cancer.
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What to do if your symptoms are persistent?
If you are experiencing symptoms that are either severe, frequent, or out of the ordinary, you should make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
Keep a record of your symptoms as this will help your GP make a speedier diagnosis.
If left untreated, the tumour can spread to other parts of the body, this is known as metastatic ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer does not produce noticeable symptoms during the early stages and can be easy to dismiss; only 20 percent of cases are detected at this stage.
What increases the risk of getting ovarian cancer?
The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age, with more than half of all cases in the UK aged 65 and over.
Anyone with ovaries can be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, this includes women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries.
However, you are not at risk if you’ve had surgery to remove your ovaries.
According to the NHS, you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer if you:
Had breast cancer of bowel cancer
Inherited a faulty gene, such as the BRCA genes of those linked to Lynch syndrome
Had radiotherapy treatment for a previous cancer
Have endometriosis or diabetes
Started your periods at a young age or went through the menopause late (over 55), or have not had a baby – because these may mean you’ve released more eggs
Have never used any hormonal contraception, such as the pill or an implant
Are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
It is possible to have ovarian cancer without having any of these risk factors. Likewise, having any of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop ovarian cancer.
If any of these symptoms are experienced frequently, and particularly if more than 12 times in a month, you should contact your GP.
The health service has recommended options that can help lower your chance of getting ovarian cancer, these include:
Staying a healthy weight or lose weight if you’re overweight
Talking with a GP about possible tests or treatment, such as taking a hormonal contraception or removing your ovaries if ovarian cancer runs in your family
What happens at the GP appointment
Your GP will ask you about your health and symptoms, it is important to tell them if anyone in your family has or had ovarian or breast cancer.
They may ask to examine you, you can request a female doctor or nurse when you book the appointment.
You’ll be asked to undress from the waist down, behind a screen and be given a sheet to put over you.
The NHS has explained that the examination may involve:
Gently putting a smooth, tube-shaped tool (known as a speculum) into your vagina so they can see inside this area
Pressing on your tummy and inside your vagina, to check for lumps or tender or sore areas
The examination should not be painful, but talk to your GP if you feel uncomfortable.
The health service recommends bringing a friend or family member with you if you feel nervous.
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