March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and NHS Lincolnshire CCG is raising awareness of the symptoms associated with the disease.
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK, with around 7,400 new cases every year, that is 20 every day (2015-2017), and it accounts for around 4% of all new cancers in women in the UK (2017).
Ovarian cancer affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but occasionally it can affect younger women. The symptoms of ovarian cancer 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 are similar to those of some more common conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). However, if the symptoms are frequent, persistent and new to you, you should seek advice. You should contact your GP practice if:
- You have 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 or breast cancer and are worried you may be at higher risk of getting it.
Although most women with these symptoms will not have ovarian cancer, it is best to check, and your GP Practice can arrange some tests which are likely to include an examination, blood tests and a scan to see if you might be at risk.
If you’ve already seen your GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to the GP and explain this. If you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer your GP may refer you to a genetics specialist to discuss the option of genetic testing to check your ovarian cancer risk.
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 small
- Endometriosis – 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 how far the cancer has spread and your general health. The main treatments are:
- Surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible
- Chemotherapy (where drugs are used to kill cancer cells) – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer
The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of cure. But sadly it is often not recognised until it has already spread. That is why it is so important for women to know what the possible symptoms are and to seek advice if they are worried. Find out more on the NHS website.