65% of UK women aren’t confident about spotting common symptoms
Each year in the UK 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 4,100 die from the disease.
Statistics show that around 65% of UK women aren’t confident about spotting the common signs of ovarian cancer, despite it being the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK and the sixth most common cancer in women.
Research conducted by BMI healthcare suggests that 40% of women claim to experience symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer, but 70% of these did not seek medical opinion. In addition, it was found that one in five didn’t know any ovarian cancer symptoms.
So, to boost knowledge and mark the start of Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, we’ve teamed up with Mr Jafaru Abu, Consultant Gynaecological Oncology Surgeon at BMI The Park Hospital in Nottingham, to answer some of the most common questions about the condition.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
- Pain in the lower abdomen or side
- Irregular periods or vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Bloated, full feeling in the abdomen
- A swollen abdomen
- Pain during sex
- Feeling of fullness or loss of appetite
- Back pain
- Passing urine more often than usual
- Feeling or being sick
Mr Abu adds:
“It is wrong to say that ovarian cancer is a ‘silent killer’. It isn’t. About 95% of women with ovarian cancer do report symptoms. The only problem is that most of the symptoms are vague and could be non-gynaecological. The common symptoms include abdominal bloating (increased girth), feeling full quickly after small meals and difficulties eating, fatigue, bowel related symptoms or change in bowel habit such as constipation and diarrhoea, urinary symptoms, abdominal/pelvic pain, and menstrual irregularities, loss of appetite and loss of weight.”
What kind of women are most at risk of ovarian cancer?
“There is a strong association between ovarian cancer and age. The incidence rises exponentially from 35-40, peaking at around the age of 80. In the UK, about 75% of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women above the age of 55. About 20% are related to some major life style patterns such as hormone replacement therapy, exposure to asbestos, tobacco smoking, irradiation, strong family history (about 3% of cases occur in those with ovarian cancer in their families), infertility, personal history of cancer and genetic factors (5-15% of ovarian cancer cases are due to inherited conditions, majority of which are due to BRCA1 and 2 mutations).”
If there is a family history of ovarian cancer, should extra precaution be taken?
“The risk of ovarian cancer is three times higher in those whose mother or sister either has or has had ovarian cancer compared with women from families who have not had the disease. There is no nationwide screening for ovarian cancer. However, women who are at risk or have a family history may be offered an annual scan as well as a blood test called CA125. The latter is an ovarian cancer tumour marker and is raised in about 80% of cases. However there is no evidence so far that these tests can pick up cancer early to save lives. For instance, CA125 is only raised in about 50% of women with the early stage disease. The advice is that if you think you are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer, you should talk to your GP.”
How is ovarian cancer detected?
“If you think you have any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, you should see your GP who will examine you first and then may order some blood tests, which will usually include CA125. If the result of the blood test and the examination suggests you may have ovarian cancer, your GP will then refer you to a specialist in gynaecological cancer. Your specialist will again examine you and may arrange some imaging investigations such as an ultrasound scan or computed tomography (CT) scan. These investigations should give your specialist a good idea as to whether you may have ovarian cancer or not and be able to proceed to the next stage of your management.”