What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

March has been designated Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month with the aim of ensuring more women recognise the early signs of the disease to help with their chances of beating it.

The disease develops when abnormal cells in and around the ovary and fallopian tubes grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and form a cancerous tumour, which, if malignant, can spread to other parts of the body.

According to Ovarian Cancer Action, 295,000 women are diagnosed with it annually – making it the sixth most common form of cancer among females, particularly among older people – but 90 per cent do not know its four main symptoms.

These are:

  • Persistent stomach pain

  • Persistent bloating

  • Difficulty eating or loss of appetite

  • Increased need to urinate.

According to the NHS, other symptoms associated with ovarian cancer can include:

  • Indigestion

  • Constipation or diarrhoea

  • Back pain

  • Exhaustion

  • Sudden weight loss

  • Bleeding from the vagina post-menopause

Given that some of the above ailments can be associated with other conditions too, it is important to see a GP should any of them persist so that you can be checked out.

A doctor may inquire about whether you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, conduct a physical exam to check for lumps or sore areas and may propose that you go on to see a specialist in hospital for further tests, the health services explains.

These might initially include blood tests or an ultrasound scan but alternative measures professionals might also recommend include CT scans, needle biopsies (removing a small sample of cells or fluid from your ovaries), a laparoscopy (investigating your ovaries via a camera inside a tube, inserted through a small incision in your abdomen) or a laparotomy (surgery to remove tissue).

The results can take several weeks to be processed but you are advised to call the hospital or GP if you are worried, given that it can be an understandably anxiety-inducing process.

A positive diagnosis might mean you are required to undergo further tests in hospital, such as a CT, MRI or PET scan, a chest X-ray or genetic testing if there is a history of the disease in your family.

What treatment you are ultimately given will depend on the size of the tumour, its precise location, whether or not it has spread and your general state of health.

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, medicines administered as targeted therapies or hormone therapy are all potential options depending on your circumstances, the NHS reports, although referral to a palliative care or symptom control team may be recommended if your condition is thought to be too far advanced to be curable.

You can reduce your risk of exposure by maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, avoiding smoking and reporting any possible symptoms to a GP as soon as you suspect them to ensure they can be examined early and, if necessary, treated.

For more information, please visit Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK or Ovarian Cancer Action.