Ovarian cancer is diagnosed in over 7,000 women a year and it is one of the most common cancers in women, but many know little about the signs and how to diagnose it. In fact, a recent survey by ovarian cancer support charity, Ovacome, found that over 90% women didn't know what to look out for before being diagnosed. It was widely believed that a cervical screening would detect ovarian cancer, it does not.
So what are the symptoms, and who's most at risk? Annabelle Burnham, Consultant Gynaecologist with healthcare platform Medstars.co.uk answers these questions:
Who Should Be Taking Precautions?
Though both cervical and ovarian cancer can occur in women of any age, ovarian cancer is primarily a disease that affects older women over the age of 40. Cervical cancer, meanwhile, tends to occur in women under the age of 35.
Unfortunately, while it's relatively easy to prevent cervical cancer by identifying pre-cancerous cells through regular smear tests, there's little that you can do to decrease your risk of ovarian cancer, in part because there's currently no effective screening process. Women with a history of breast cancer are at increased risk, but it can easily strike unexpectedly.
What Symptoms Should I Be Looking Out For?
Symptoms for ovarian cancer can often be hard to recognise in the early stages, particularly as they're not always gynaecological and regularly get confused with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome.
Things to watch out for include: abdominal or pelvic discomfort, persistent bloating or stomach pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, changes in bowel movements and fatigue and back pain.
Compare this to cervical cancer, whose symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge and pain during sex.
What's The Prognosis?
The only way to test for ovarian cancer is through an ultrasound scan, but if you manage to catch it before the cancer spreads beyond the ovaries and depending on your age, the prognosis can be very good with an average 92% survival rate. The problem is that only 15% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed during those early stages, which is why it's often considered one of the most deadly cancers in women.
My advice is to be vigilant ladies, if you're concerned, don't delay and go see your GP. Better to be safe than sorry.