Ovarian Cancer

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I’m all for ‘campaigns to raise awareness of (insert random word here)’ events, and as March 2014 is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I would join forces with my colleagues and duly do my bit to achieve just that!
Ovarian cancer is one of the more common cancers in the UK; 6500 women are diagnosed with it every year, and unfortunately for many of them it will be diagnosed at a relatively late stage and already be extremely difficult to treat. So the main priority for this condition is for health professionals to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of the early symptoms of the disease and get themselves tested as soon as possible. It mainly affects women over 50, but it can affect anyone regardless of age.
So – the symptoms of early ovarian cancer are:
1.    Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
2.    Ongoing pelvic and abdominal pain
3     Difficulty eating, feeling full quickly or persistent nausea

One of the reasons that ovarian cancer is so often diagnosed at a late stage is that the symptoms are so similar to many other conditions that women can easily dismiss as harmless, for instance irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion.

If you have any of these symptoms on a regular basis then it is important to head to your GP for further assessment; they will probably want to ask you all about your symptoms, perform an examination and then ask you to have blood tests and an ultrasound scan. This will give you a good idea whether or not you have ovarian cancer, and will also allow your doctor to determine whether your symptoms are caused by anything else – which they probably are, the chances are that you have something more common and less worrying such as irritable bowel or a simple ovarian cyst, for example. But it is important to confirm this.

If your blood tests and ultrasound scan are normal then it is relatively easy to reassure you; however, if they show anything slightly unusual then your doctor will want to refer you to a specialist for more tests; the tests you will have had to this point can only give an indication that you may have a problem and a gynaecologist will need to investigate further. The only way to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is for your ovary to be removed and analysed.

If you do receive this diagnosis then what happens next really depends on what sort of ovarian cancer it is, and whether or not it has spread to other parts of your body. Essentially your options would be further surgery and/or chemotherapy depending on the exact nature of your cancer.

So who is at risk of ovarian cancer? One in ten cases are thought to be genetic, so if you have relatives who developed the condition, particularly at a young age, then it is worth asking your GP if you need to talk to a medical genetics specialist. If you want to think about your own risk of ovarian cancer you can get some guidance here: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Causesriskfactors/Genetics/OPERA.aspx

If you click on the green block in the middle of the page that says ‘use opera to check your risk’ the website will ask you relevant questions and advise you what to do next, depending on your results.

The other thing that causes ovarian cancer is ovulation- every time your ovaries release an egg they become damaged, and it is thought that this increases the risk of developing the disease – so things like pregnancy, breast feeding, taking the contraceptive pill and anything else that reduces the number of periods you have will reduce your risk of ovarian cancer.

There is some evidence that people who are overweight/obese are more likely to develop ovarian cancer than those who are a healthy weight – so yet another reason to keep fighting the flab!

If you want to know more about ovarian cancer, and particularly the awareness campaign this month, then one of the main ovarian cancer charities Ovacome is very helpful – find them  here:   http://www.ovacome.org.uk/

Remember – even if you have the symptoms listed at the beginning of this article, it is still very unlikely that you have ovarian cancer, but particularly as your chances of beating the disease are so much greater with an early diagnosis, it is advisable to get it checked out.

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