Written by Mr Sotiris Vimplis, consultant gynaecologist
Around 7,100 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK each year. This makes it the fifth most common cancer in women, after breast, lung, bowel and womb cancer. But to put it in perspective, the average GP sees only one case of ovarian cancer every five years.
The good news is that when diagnosed at an early stage, the outcome of ovarian cancer is good. At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to use to check for ovarian cancer in the general population.
Symptoms are not necessarily easy to spot, as they can be vague and similar to those seen in other more common conditions. There are often delays between onset of symptoms and diagnosis and most women present when the disease has already spread. As a result ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death amongst all gynaecological cancers in the UK.
It is important that women are aware of the symptoms, so that they can seek advice as early as possible.
There is now agreement that the three most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- Abdominal or pelvic pain that is experienced most days
- Bloating that is persistent and does not come and go
- Difficulty eating and feeling full more quickly
These symptoms are frequently experienced by women, however when they are severe and persistent the likelihood of ovarian cancer increases.
Other symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, urinary symptoms, back pain or extreme fatigue may also be experienced.
If you regularly experience any of these symptoms it is important that you seek medical advice. It is unlikely that your symptoms are caused by a serious problem, but it is very important to be checked out. You should have a pelvic examination first of all. Your doctor may also ask for a blood test called Ca125. Depending on the results of this test, he can arrange an ultrasound scan of your abdomen and pelvis. Further tests like MRI or CT scans may be required, but these are not always necessary.
About 1 in 10 cases are caused by an inherited faulty gene. Having close relatives with ovarian or breast cancer does not necessarily mean that you have a faulty inherited gene in the family - most cases of the disease happen by chance. If you are worried about your family history of ovarian or breast cancer, you need to speak to a doctor.
To book an appointment with Mr Vimplis, please call 020 8709 7878