DOCTOR CALLING: By Dr Kevin Hill
South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group is raising awareness of the symptoms associated with ovarian cancer during March, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women with 7,000 cases diagnosed every year.
Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women and common symptoms include:
• Feeling constantly bloated;
• A swollen tummy;
• Discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area;
• Feeling full quickly when eating;
• Needing to pee more often than normal.
The symptoms aren’t always easy to recognise because they’re similar to those of some more common conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). However, the symptoms will be frequent, persistent and new to you as a patient.
You should see your GP if:
• You’ve been feeling bloated most days for the last three weeks;
• You have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that won’t go away;
• You have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it.
It’s unlikely you have cancer but it’s best to check and your GP can do some simple tests to see if you might have it.
Currently there is no simple test to diagnose ovarian cancer. The sad fact is that most women are diagnosed after the ovarian cancer has spread, making it more difficult and complex to treat so spotting the signs and acting quickly is critical.”
If you’ve already seen your GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, your GP may refer you to a genetics specialist to discuss the option of genetic testing to check your ovarian cancer risk.
There is no national screening programme for ovarian cancer and the current clinical test is not great at early diagnosis.
Also a UK study has shown only three per cent of women are very confident at spotting if they have ovarian cancer symptoms. This all helps to explain why the five-year ovarian cancer survival rate is just 43 per cent.
If this cancer were diagnosed at the earliest stage, up to 90 per cent of women would survive five years or more.
A screening programme and new clinical test are some way off therefore raising women’s awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms offers the best chance of improving earlier diagnosis and survival rates.
That’s why the March initiative by South Lincolnshire CCG to use Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to inform women of the symptoms is so important.
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, however some things may increase a woman’s risk of getting it, such as:
• Being over 50 years of age;
• A family history of ovarian or breast cancer – this could mean you’ve inherited genes that increase your cancer risk;
• Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – although any increase in cancer risk is likely to be very small;
• Endometroisis – a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb;
• Being overweight.
The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on things such as how far the cancer has spread and your general health. The main treatments are:
• Surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible – this will often involve removing both ovaries, the womb and the tubes connecting them to each other.
• Chemotherapy – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer.
Treatment will aim to cure the cancer whenever possible.
If the cancer has spread too far to be cured, the aim is to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.
The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure, but often it’s not recognised until it has already spread.