The facts about ovarian cancer
Each day in the UK, around 20 women receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. This puts ovarian cancer sixth on the list of UK cancers and makes it really important to understand what to look out for when it comes to ovarian cancer symptoms. Cases are on the rise across the UK and speed of diagnosis can vary according to ovarian cancer stages but ovarian cancer treatment is improving and mortality rates are expected to fall in the years to 2035.
The signs of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose at the early stages, which is why it is important to visit your GP or a gynecologist as soon as you experience anything you suspect might be one of the ovarian cancer symptoms. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner your ovarian cancer treatment can begin. Ovarian cancer is related to your reproductive system but because of its proximity to the stomach area, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can also be found in the non-reproductive lower abdomen.
The main symptoms include,
- Pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen
- Bloating or swelling that doesn’t go away
- Reduced appetite
- Urgency in urination
Other less common ovarian cancer symptoms may include,
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Unexpected vaginal bleeding
- Weight loss that is not due to diet or exercise
- Persistent nausea or uncomfortable indigestion
It is important to visit your GP as soon as you experience ovarian cancer symptoms, especially if someone else in your family has had ovarian or breast cancer or if you are over 50. There are a few simple tests that your GP can do to find out more, and visiting the doctor as soon as you see signs of ovarian cancer can make a huge difference to treatment success.
Ovarian cancer diagnosis
Many cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed when women visit their GP to discuss ovarian cancer symptoms but some diagnoses result from visits to hospital A&E departments. Diagnosis can come from a combination of external and internal examinations, questioning about family history, blood tests and an ultrasound scan (either abdominal or vaginal). Further tests, if you are experiencing the symptoms of ovarian cancer, include CT scan, x-ray (to check whether or not the cancer has spread), needle biopsy and laparoscopy.
Ovarian cancer risk factors
As well as knowing the possible symptoms of ovarian cancer, it is important to understand risk factors. Ovarian cancer is a female cancer and more White women than Asian or Black women contract it each year. Unlike some health issues, ovarian cancer has not been linked to factors of deprivation. As with any cancer, the risk of developing ovarian cancer is based on a number of factors, such as genetics and age.
The peak age for ovarian cancer diagnosis is between 75 and 79 but other factors also increase risk including,
- Oestrogen-only or combined HRT
- Family history of ovarian cancer
- Family history of other cancers
- Specific genetic mutations (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
- Asbestos exposure
- Height (taller women)
- Previous cancer (particularly breast and bowel cancer)
Factors that may decrease the chances of experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms include the use of oral contraceptives, breastfeeding and a diet rich in non-starchy vegetables. In 2015 only 11% of ovarian cancer cases were preventable.
Ovarian cancer stages and cancer grades
Many (6 in 10) cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at a late stage. There are four main ovarian cancer stages,
Stage 1 ovarian cancer – one or both ovaries are affected
- Diagnosis at this stage is less likely
- Possible signs include discomfort, urinary issues or constipation
- Surgery alone may be enough to treat the cancer
- Radiotherapy may be used
Stage 2 ovarian cancer – the pelvis or womb are also affected
- Less common because cancer cells, once they are spreading, often spread to the stomach at the same time as the pelvis or womb
- Surgery may need to be supplemented with chemotherapy
Stage 3 ovarian cancer – the stomach lining, bowel or nearby lymph glands are affected
- The most common stage for an ovarian cancer diagnosis
- Ovarian cancer symptoms may include indigestion, poor appetite, bloating and constipation
- Surgery will be needed to remove as much affected tissue as possible and a second surgery during chemotherapy might also be recommended
Stage 4 ovarian cancer – other parts of the body such as the liver or lungs are affected
- Only a few women are diagnosed at this stage
- Surgery may be recommended but sometimes chemotherapy is the only treatment
- Radiotherapy may be used to shrink tumours
Ovarian cancer can be survivable
Although 5% of all female cancer deaths in the UK are because of ovarian cancer, mortality rates are decreasing and likely to fall by 37% by 2035. Currently around a third of women in the UK survive ovarian cancer for ten years or more. Patients diagnosed in the early ovarian cancer stages have a higher chance of survival for five years than those diagnosed in the later stages. This emphasises the need to understand ovarian cancer symptoms and act quickly should any of the signs of ovarian cancer be experienced.
Ovarian cancer treatment
Treatment will depend on ovarian cancer symptoms, the stage of the cancer and the grade, or how aggressive, the cancer is. Another factor that will be taken into consideration for your ovarian cancer treatment plan will be whether or not you are still of childbearing age. A combination of treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be recommended. Our cooling and soothing R1 and R2 gels can help patients currently undergoing radiotherapy treatment and ease any skin discomfort that may occur as treatment progresses.