Nearly half of GPs mistakenly believe symptoms only present in the later stages of the disease, and less than a third of women in the UK are confident they know the symptoms.
Start Making Noise with Target Ovarian Cancer and help to raise awareness, raise money and save lives.
Dr Victoria Barber is a GP from Kettering, and Target Ovarian Cancer supporter. Vicki’s mum Val died from ovarian cancer in 2014 and Vicki is passionate about spreading the word about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Here is Vicki’s advice on catching the disease early.
Why is it important for women to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Vicki says: There is no screening test for ovarian cancer so no early warning system in place, unlike cervical cancer which can be picked up on a smear test. Women therefore need to be vigilant and know the symptoms of ovarian cancer – which can occur early in the disease.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
- Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain – that’s your tummy and below.
- Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes, it is there all day and not just towards the end of the day – it isn’t relieved by passing a motion and women can mistake it for putting on weight.
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly – you can’t seem to finish your meals, you may think of it as indigestion.
- Urinary symptoms – needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual, thinking you have a urine infection
In addition, extreme tiredness, losing weight, bleeding after the menopause or a change in your bowel habit should always alert you to the possibility of cancer, not just ovarian.
These symptoms will be new for you, persistent and frequent: 2-3 times a week, 12 times a month. If you’re experiencing any of them, it’s a good idea to keep a diary. There is a useful diary you can download from www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/symptomsdiary as an app or to print at home.
Take this to your GP to aid your discussion. Most GPs are in a partnership and you can often make an appointment with a woman GP or one you feel more comfortable with; this doesn’t have to be your usual GP.
Who is at risk of getting ovarian cancer?
The biggest risks by far are:
Increasing age: 9 out of 10 women diagnosed will be over 50 – although younger women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer too, and it is just as important for them to know the symptoms.
Family history of ovarian cancer: the BRCA gene mutations are the most common – Angelina Jolie has written about her experiences since finding out that she has the BRCA1 gene mutation.
The following things may cause a small increased risk:
History of endometriosis or a history of benign ovarian cyst
Obesity: a body mass index of over 28
Previous history of breast cancer
Use of HRT
Having undertaken IVF
Use of talcum power
The most important thing to remember is to visit your GP if you have any concerns. Tell them you’re worried about ovarian cancer – you can find more information and advice on how to do this on the Target Ovarian Cancer website.
Christine had booked a walking holiday in Wales, but in the week running up to it she began feeling bloated and very full after meals. Once she and her partner got to their holiday home the feeling got worse, and she booked an appointment at a local GP. After describing her symptoms, the GP examined Christine and then told her to abandon the holiday, go home, see her own GP and get tests started as soon as possible.
Everything happened very quickly after that. Christine had blood tests, an ultrasound, CT scan, fluid drained from her tummy and a biopsy. Within a month she was told by doctors that she had ovarian cancer. After that came surgery, followed by chemotherapy.
It’s now over two years since Christine finished treatment and she is doing well. It took longer than she expected to regain her strength and stamina but she is now back to her favourite hobby – hill walking. She is hoping to go back to Wales to climb Snowdon someday soon.
Christine now campaigns for better awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, so that more women like her will be diagnosed sooner and receive the best possible treatment.
Target Ovarian Cancer’s Start Making Noise campaign for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/march
You can find information on the symptoms of ovarian cancer at www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/symptoms