Ovarian cancer claims thousands of women’s lives each year. But with early diagnosis that figure would be drastically reduced. If in doubt, seek help, says Fiona Adams
Last month the World Health Organisation warned that the planet is facing a cancer ‘tidal wave’, predicting that by 2035 there will be up to 24 million sufferers. It added that there was ‘a real need’ to look at ways of preventing cancer by targeting four key issues: smoking, obesity, alcohol and sugar.
Bad habits aside, prevention is not always straightforward: each year there are patients diagnosed who have never smoked, nor eaten nor drunk to excess. Many simply fall victim to pollution, a poor ticket in the genetic lottery or mere bad luck.
One major contributing factor, however, is that we are still reluctant to bother our GPs about unusual symptoms, not wishing to waste their time. In addition, we have resigned ourselves to the fact that some cancers are simply incurable. What we should be telling ourselves, however, is that while some cancers are harder to detect than others, many patients do survive if they are diagnosed early enough.
One condition for which early detection is key is ovarian cancer, the UK’s biggest gynaecological killer. With around 135 women diagnosed every week and more than 4,000 deaths each year, the UK boasts the lowest survival rate in Europe. Having children, breastfeeding and taking the oral contraceptive can reduce risk, but none of these are infallible. Women are most commonly diagnosed post-menopause.
March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and charities such as Target Ovarian Cancer, the Eve Appeal, Ovacome and Ovarian Cancer Action are not only keen to raise funds for research and diagnosis, but also to debunk the myth that this particular condition is a ‘silent killer’; that patients can only be diagnosed when the disease is in its late stages. In fact, research has shown that many women do experience early symptoms but do not necessarily associate them with a more serious problem until it is too late.
These are usually frequent and persistent:
• Increased size of abdomen and continued bloating
• A feeling of being full or difficulty eating
• Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
• A need to wee more urgently or more often
If you suffer frequently from any of these symptoms, and they are not normal for you, see your GP. For women over the age of 50, doctors now have to carry out a blood test, which is then usually followed up by an ultrasound scan. Ovarian cancer cannot be detected by a cervical smear, so do not rely on that if you have an appointment coming up.
Fundraising and awareness events take place throughout the month. Information and ideas packs may be obtained via all the websites below.