March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
There is a wonderful support organisation and website called Ovarian Cancer Action where we have taken this text from their FAQ page please go to http://www.ovarian.org.uk/ for more information
The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
• Persistent stomach pain
• Persistent bloating
• Difficultly eating/feeling full quickly
• Needing to wee more often or more urgently
There are also some other symptoms that women may experience which are:
• Back pain
• Diarrhoea or constipation
The symptoms of ovarian cancer seem to be very similar to a number of other conditions so how can I really tell if I have the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Yes, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are very similar to a number of non-serious conditions such as IBS, but ovarian cancer symptoms tend to differ in that they are persistent, frequent, new to you and progressively get worse.
You describe the symptoms of ovarian cancer as persistent, frequent and new. What does that really mean?
When we say the symptoms of ovarian cancer are persistent and frequent we mean that you experience these symptoms on most days of the month - more than 12 times per month – and we consider symptoms to be new if they developed within the last 12 months.
Is there a screening test for ovarian cancer, like the mammogram for breast cancer?
Unfortunately there is no screening test for ovarian cancer. This is because it has been a challenge to develop a screening test that is accurate enough to detect ovarian cancer.
Can a cervical smear test detect ovarian cancer?
No. The cervical smear test detects cervical cancer and is unable to detect ovarian cancer.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
If a woman has symptoms that are associated with ovarian cancer a CA125 blood test is conducted. CA125 blood levels tend to be raised in women with ovarian cancer and other conditions, such as fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease etc. Even though it is not the most accurate test is can be a good first indicator that ovarian cancer is present. If a woman’s CA125 blood level is raised a pelvic or trans-vaginal ultrasound is conducted which allows images of the ovary to be taken to see if any abnormalities exist. If a woman has a raised CA125 blood level and the ultrasound detects an abnormality in the ovary she will be referred to a gynaecologist where further tests will be conducted to determine if ovarian cancer is present.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
The treatment that a woman with ovarian cancer will receive will depend on how advanced the disease is and her health. In general treatment involves surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible followed by 3 to 6 cycles of chemotherapy. The effectiveness of the chemotherapy is monitored throughout treatment and if the tests come back negative for cancer the patient is considered to be in remission. The patient is then asked to return to her doctor for regular check-ups for 5 years.
Can ovarian cancer be cured?
If ovarian cancer is caught at an early stage women do very well with over 90% of women surviving for more than 5 years. Unfortunately most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at a late stage when the cancer has spread well beyond the ovary and this makes it hard to treat successfully.
If I have symptoms that I think may be ovarian cancer symptoms what should I do?
We recommend that you make an appointment to visit your GP as soon as possible and while you are waiting for your appointment keep a diary of your symptoms. Make a note of when you first developed symptoms, what the symptoms are, how often your symptoms occur and if they are getting worse. When you visit your GP take the diary with you, this will give him/her a clear picture of your symptoms which will help determine what might be causing them. At your appointment mention if you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer.
If your GP doesn’t mention it, ask for a CA125 blood test and if this is raised then a pelvic ultrasound should be conducted.
If your CA125 blood level is normal and your GP cannot determine the cause of your symptoms then keep monitoring your symptoms and if they become worse or more frequent make another appointment to see your GP.
If my mother has ovarian cancer does that mean I will get it?
If you have just one family member with ovarian cancer this only slightly increases your risk of developing ovarian cancer. You shouldn’t be overly worried but do ensure you are aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and if you notice any symptoms visit your GP.
If you have two or more relatives with ovarian cancer you are considered to have a strong family history of ovarian cancer. You would need to speak to your GP about risk reduction options and strategies for early detection.
If I need someone to talk to about my concerns who can I contact?
Please go to the Ovarian Cancer Action website, linked below, You can also call them on 0300 456 4700, they will be very happy to provide you with information and advice