Do you know the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer symptoms

March is Ovarian Cancer Month and the focus this year is about raising awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

According to data released by Target Ovarian Cancer, a woman’s chance of surviving ovarian cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage, more than doubles from just 46% to more than 90%. However, less than a third of women in the UK are confident they know the symptoms and often they can be mistaken for symptoms of other, much less serious illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome or polycystic ovary syndrome.

Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries. These are the organs inside the body which produce eggs and release them every month. Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 50 or older, and have been through the menopause, but it is becoming more common in teenagers and young adults.

Ovarian cancer risk factors

Although it is not known what causes this type of cancer, risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Age: more than 50% of ovarian cancers develop in women over the age of 65.
  • Hormonal factors: it’s suspected that the number of times an ovary releases an egg may be linked to ovarian cancer risk because there is evidence that having children, breastfeeding, and taking the contraceptive pill reduces the risk.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): taking HRT after the menopause slightly increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • Breast cancer: if you have had breast cancer, you may be more likely to develop ovarian cancer as it is thought that they can be caused by the same cancer genes.
  • Other health conditions: some conditions increase your risk including diabetes and endometriosis.
  • Lifestyle factors: being overweight and smoking can increase your risk of certain types of ovarian cancer.
  • Family history: if a close family relative has had ovarian cancer, your risk may be up to three times higher, particularly if they were diagnosed at a young age.
  • Inherited genetic conditions: it is now known that certain genetic mutations – the most commonly affected genes being BRCA1 and BRCA2 – greatly increases your risk of ovarian cancer, as well as breast, bowel and womb cancers.

Ovarian cancer symptoms

There are four main symptoms of ovarian cancer to be aware of:

  • Pain in the lower stomach area
  • Bloating or a swollen tummy
  • Difficulty eating and/or feeling full more quickly
  • Needing to wee more frequently

Other symptoms can include:

  • Indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Passing urine more often or needing to pee urgently
  • A change in your normal bowel function, either diarrhoea or constipation
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Post-menopausal vaginal bleeding
  • Fatigue

If any of these symptoms are persistent or frequent and out of the ordinary, make an appointment as soon as possible with your GP. Keeping a record of any symptoms can be really useful.

If you are aged 50 and over and you suspect you are experiencing IBS, you should ask for further tests; IBS also causes bloating and changes in bowel function, but it does not usually present for the first time after the age of 50.

Please call +44 (0)20 4580 1152 to make an appointment.