Around 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in the UK, with two-thirds being diagnosed at a later stage, meaning the disease is harder to treat.
Ovarian cancer is often labelled a “silent killer”, because warning signs usually develop when the disease has reached an advanced stage, which is largely incurable.
In fact, 44 percent of GPs mistakenly believe symptoms only present in the later stages of the disease, explains Target Ovarian Cancer.
Dr Frankie Jackson-Spencer added: “Ovarian cancer often goes undiagnosed until it reaches the late stage due to its symptoms being vague and often overlapping with common/less serious conditions.”
If diagnosed at the earliest stage, nine in 10 women will survive – making symptom awareness front and centre. According to the NHS, feeling bloated and experiencing a swollen tummy are common warning signs of ovarian cancer. But there are a number of other red flags that could signal the devastating disease too.
There are nine known symptoms of ovarian cancer that might strike, including a “loss of appetite” and/or “abdominal pain”, warns Dr Jackson-Spencer.
Meanwhile, other people may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, unexplained tiredness and a frequent urge to urinate.
Ovarian cancer symptoms could include:
Feeling full quickly
Loss of appetite
Frequent need to urinate
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Unexplained weight loss
Change in bowel habits.
Concerningly, just one in five UK women can name bloating as one of the main symptoms of the disease, highlights Target Ovarian Cancer.
“Unlike cervical and breast cancer there aren’t robust screening tests for ovarian cancer,” Dr Jackson-Spencer continued.
“So it’s important to get any symptoms checked out by a doctor. Your GP might want to do a blood test, internal examination or refer you for an ultrasound scan.”
The women’s health expert added: “If caught early, ovarian cancer can be less serious, that’s why it’s super important to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.”
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What causes ovarian cancer?
While there “isn’t an exact cause of ovarian cancer”, there are a “few factors” that can increase a person’s risk of developing the disease, informed Dr Jackson-Spencer.
Women over the age of 65 face a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer, with half of all cases occurring in women in this age group. The expert added that family history is another risk factor, she said: “Approximately five to 10 percent of cases of ovarian cancer are thought to be hereditary.”
Women who start their period at a younger age, or go through menopause later in life, are also thought to be at higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Dr Jackson-Spencer said: “The increase in the number of times you ovulate creates more opportunities for cancerous cells to develop.”
Patients who have received radiotherapy treatment for cancers, such as bowel cancer, also face a greater risk.