A new study has revealed that a shockingly high percentage of women in the UK don’t recognise the most common symptom of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in British women, accounting for 4% of all cancer diagnoses in the UK.
Despite this fact, a surprisingly low number of us (we’re putting our hands up here, too) can name the full list of ovarian cancer symptoms, or recognise how to spot it early on.
For example, most of us have experienced bloating in our stomachs, but if you’re noticing consistent bloating then there is a chance this could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
According to a new study from Target Ovarian Cancer, women in the UK are more likely to consider changing their diet when experiencing bloating rather than visiting their GP, because so few of us recognise the potential link to cancer.
The charity reports that 50% of women in Britain said that they would do something to change their diet, such as cutting out gluten, dairy or trying probiotic yogurts, if they noticed consistent bloating.
Some 34% of women said they would see a doctor if they were concerned about bloating, but only one in five could name it as an ovarian cancer symptom, which the charity describes as “an alarmingly low rate of awareness”.
As with most cancers, early diagnosis results in a higher chance of survival. Ovarian cancer in particular is known to spread if it is not caught in the beginning stages.
To help educate ourselves about ovarian cancer, we’ve written a guide to its signs and symptoms, which you can find below.
What is ovarian cancer?
The ovaries are a pair of small organs located in the lower abdomen, that are connected to the womb and store our reproductive eggs.
Ovarian cancer affects these organs by causing abnormal cells to multiply rapidly, resulting in the growth of a tumour.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS cites the following symptoms as common indicators of ovarian cancer:
- 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
Unfortunately, these symptoms are easily confused for general tummy ache or even irritable bowel syndrome, which makes them harder to diagnose.
The key to recognising these signs as something more serious is by noting the length of time they’ve been going on. If you’ve been feeling bloated most days for three weeks or more, or you have persistently felt the urge to urinate more than usual, you should visit your GP.
Those with a family history of ovarian cancer should also be more alert to these symptoms.
What is the cause of ovarian cancer?
The cause of ovarian cancer is unknown.
It is more common in women over the age of 50, as well as those who are overweight or have a family history of ovarian cancer.
It is also thought that endometriosis, a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside of the womb, could increase a woman’s risk of getting it.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, you should visit your GP. They will check if there are any swellings or lumps in your tummy, and may do an internal examination. They may also take a blood test.
Depending on the results of the examination and blood test, you may be asked for an ultrasound scan. You may then need further tests following this.
For more information on being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, head to the NHS website here.
What is the treatment for ovarian cancer?
The treatment for ovarian cancer will depend on what stage the cancer is at, and whether it has spread.
Surgery may be used to remove as much of the cancer as possible, which could involve removing both ovaries, the womb and the fallopian tubes.
Chemotherapy may be used after surgery in order to kill any remaining cancer cells, or beforehand to shrink the tumour before removal.
Ovarian cancer survival statistics
The most recent statistics made available by Cancer Research UK, show that ovarian cancer survival rates are improving. In fact, they have almost doubled in the last 40 years in the UK.
In the Seventies, less than a fifth of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survived their disease beyond 10 years, but now it’s more than a third.
When diagnosed at its earliest stage, nine in 10 women with ovarian cancer will survive for five years or more.
However, less than five women out of 100 will survive ovarian cancer if diagnosed at the latest stage.
These facts make an impossible-to-ignore case for more awareness and education around ovarian cancer symptoms.
Read this guide and then send it to a friend, a sister, or a colleague, and help us continue to encourage women to actively look for these symptoms in themselves and deal with them as early as possible.