Around 7,000 women in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, making it the nation’s biggest gynaecological killer, with survival rates amongst the worst in Europe.
Delays in diagnosis is one of the reasons why the UK has some of the worst ovarian cancer survival rates for women in Europe.
The ovaries are a pair of small organs in the female reproductive system that contain and release an egg once a month. The disease is most common in women who are over the age of 50 or after cessation of period i.e. in menopause, although it can affect women of any age.
Mr Raj Saha, consultant gynaecologist at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, explains: “The truth is that for many women, they are diagnosed once the cancer is already at a later stage, which makes treatment more challenging. With research showing that only three percent of women being confident about recognising a symptom of ovarian cancer, many women often delay seeking advice.
“Ovarian cancer is particularly difficult to diagnose yet early diagnosis is crucial. The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to those of other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, so it can be difficult to recognise. Unfortunately like cervical cancer there is no established screening programme for ovarian cancer. There are early signs to look out for and the four main symptoms to look out for are:
Persistent bloating or increased stomach size
Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Needing to urinate more frequently
Persistent stomach pain
“Ovarian cancer does not have its own screening programme for women, so it is vitally important that women themselves are aware of the symptoms of this cancer, know what changes to look for and when to go and checked by their GP. If you also have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, there is a chance that it is a result of one of the genes that makes these kinds of cancer more likely. There are several possible causes of ovarian cancer and risk factors such as family history and age, but it’s a disease anyone can get even without these factors.
“There are many ways to minimise your chances of developing the disease including, eating a diet which is low in fat, and high in fruit and vegetables. It is also possible that ovarian cancer may be linked to being overweight. Losing weight through exercise, and having a balanced diet, may help to lower your risk of ovarian cancer.”
Taking combined oral contraceptive pill, procedure like sterilisation are few examples have been found to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However this cancer is difficult to predict and awareness is the most effective of all measures.