Ovarian cancer: do you know the symptoms?

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign run by the charity Ovarian Cancer Action. The campaign aims to make more people aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, which is the sixth most common cancer among women in this country.

So ask yourself, would you know that the following are all possible signs of ovarian cancer?

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating
  • Difficulty eating/feeling full more quickly
  • Needing to wee more frequently

Other symptoms may also include back pain, changes in bowel habits (going more often or a lot less) and extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

This year, Ovarian Cancer Action launched a new campaign that aims not only to raise awareness of ovarian cancer but also to fund the development of a screening tool. Research funded by the charity and led by Professor Ahmed at Oxford University has identified a protein that is prevalent in women with ovarian cancer. They hope that further investigation will lead to an early detection test.

“Almost half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK will die within five years,” says Katherine Taylor, Ovarian Cancer Action’s chief executive.

“This is caused, in part, by late diagnosis. Screening for cervical cancer has had a dramatic impact on survival rates. We urgently need to fund research to do the same for ovarian cancer, to stop women dying before their time.”

Diagnosis difficulties

One of the problems with diagnosing ovarian cancer is that the symptoms can easily be dismissed as being caused by another, less serious, condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome. This was the case with Lisa Harrop’s mother Elaine, who died of ovarian cancer in 2013, aged 65.

“Before mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer she had been complaining of feeling bloated,” says Lisa. “She was told it was probably IBS and nothing to worry about. It still comes as a shock knowing I will never hear her voice again. I never expected our conversations to stop so soon. I always thought mum would live to a ripe old age, not die at 65.”

Lisa’s mother was one of 7,400 diagnoses of ovarian cancer that are made each year in this country. Only 46 percent of those diagnosed survive beyond five years, giving the UK one of the lowest survival rates in Western Europe.

If you’re experiencing one or more of the four main symptoms listed above, ask yourself this: are they persistent, severe, frequent or out of the ordinary?

If the answer is yes, see your GP as soon as possible. You can also help your GP to make a faster diagnosis by keeping a record of your symptoms. Ovarian Cancer Action has a symptoms diary you can download from its website to print on paper. Alternatively you can download the charity’s digital symptoms diary as an app from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.

If you’re concerned about any symptoms you’re experiencing, you can always have a confidential chat with your local Careway pharmacist. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.