Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: our complete guide
In the UK over 7300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and it’s the sixth most common cancer among women. Although most common in post-menopausal women, it can affect women of any age. We all know what our ovaries do, what they are for, how they work and what to do if we are concerned, right? Wrong. In fact, many women are unsure of what symptoms to look out for.
To shed some vital light on ovarian cancer, we spoke with Tracie Miles, a gynaecology oncology specialist nurse from national charity The Eve Appeal ‘Ask Eve’ information service. Here’s the key info she wants all women to know:
Signs and symptoms
There are four main ovarian cancer symptoms that are more prevalent in women diagnosed with the condition:
- Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
- Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits
- Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous
If you have two or more close relatives (mother, sister or daughter) who developed ovarian cancer or breast cancer, your risk of also developing the condition may be increased.
However, if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms for a period of three weeks or more, we would suggest visiting your GP.
Ovarian cancer myths
One of the biggest myths is that ovarian cancer is a ‘silent disease’. I care for many women in my role as an NHS gynaecology oncology specialist nurse and I often find that women have been experiencing symptoms long before they sought help, they just didn’t know what the symptoms were.
There is also often a misunderstanding that the smear test will ‘pick up’ any issues with the ovaries, but this is not the case. The smear test is designed to look for changes to the cervix only.
What we can all do
Understanding your body is vital. At The Eve Appeal we focus on prevention and understanding what is normal for you.
As women we become very good at ‘normalising the abnormal’ – dismissing the fact that we may be experiencing pelvic discomfort, feeling fuller quicker or experiencing persistent obvious bloating for three weeks or more.
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of the time it isn’t cancer, but it is vital to get any symptoms checked to put your mind at rest.
And finally, remember:
Ovarian cancer is rare, but being aware of the signs and symptoms is no less important than being aware of more common cancers such as breast cancer. That’s why awareness campaigns such as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month are so important in getting the message out there. Spread the word, and if you have concerns do seek advice.
The Eve Appeal provide a specialist gynaecological cancer information service, Ask Eve, offering information and support on all five gynaecological cancers.