It's ovarian cancer awareness month over the pond in the States. Our awareness campaign is in March but it's never a bad time to highlight the often-difficult-to-notice symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the biggest gynaecological killer of UK women, with UK survival rates amongst the worst in Europe.
Three quarters of women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread, making treatment more difficult. Widespread awareness is required in order to improve detection, treatment and ultimately survival.
The most likely symptoms are:
Constant, relentless bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
Difficulty eating/feeling full
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Needing to wee more urgently or more often
Other symptoms can include unexpected weight loss, change in bowel habits, low back pain, cramping, pain during intercourse and extreme fatigue.
If you regularly experience any of these symptoms, and these symptoms are abnormal for you, it is important that you see your GP so you can be checked.
A word of caution here though – most of us will experience some of these symptoms at some point in our lives. Women are more likely to suffer digestive system issues such as IBS, which can bring bloating and cramping. Many of us will experience an increased urgency to urinate, not only after childbirth or in older age. So try not to allow your imagination to run away if you do have some of these symptoms but do get yourself checked if you have persistent symptoms. Also remember that there are fibroids and benign tumours which can elicit similar symptoms.
When a growth puts pressure on the bowel, it can cause a change to your usual routine such as constipation, diarrhoea, small bowel movements or blood in the stools.
Frequent gas or bloating.
Pressure can cause changes to your digestive system.
Painful intercourse or orgasm.
Tumours can put pressure on nerves and other organs. A painful orgasm, with or without intercourse, is another good reason to be checked out. Nobody wants a painful orgasm!
A tumour may be pressing on the urinary tract.
Feeling full after eating very little.
Tumours take up space, which can leave you feeling full even after eating very little food. It can take a while to notice such a change.
Don't forget that thee are many explanations for most of those symptoms, most of them are non-cancerous. Even tumours can be benign, rather than malignant.
Ovacome, the ovarian cancer support charity, give a good overview of what you should expect.
GPs are now instructed to carry out tests (beginning with a CA125 blood test) in women especially over the age of 50, if they experience any of the above symptoms on a persistent or frequent basis, particularly more than 12 times a month. This should be followed by an abdominal/pelvic ultrasound if the blood tests are abnormal or symptoms persist. Bear in mind that blood tests can be normal so if your symptoms are unusual and persistent – make sure you stand firm.
If you are 50 or over and have symptoms that are new for you which are similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), your GP should offer you tests to check for ovarian cancer. That is because it is unusual for a woman of this age to develop IBS if they have not had it before.
You should also mention if there are two or more cases of ovarian or breast cancer in your close family, as ovarian cancer can sometimes run in families.
If you have already visited your GP and the symptoms continue or worsen, it
The survival rate for women with ovarian cancer continues to increase with improved treatment, but early detection is key to improving your chances.
Find out (if you can) if there is any history of ovarian cancer in your family.
And most importantly, listen to your body and be aware of changes.
Ovacome (ovacome.org.uk) uses this acronym to help remind you what to look for:
B Bloating (constant)
E Eating (feeling full and not wanting to eat)
A Abominal or pelvic pain most days, especially during sex.