Ovarian cancer: eight early signs and who is at risk?

Around 7,400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK. It’s more common in women who are post-menopausal, although younger women can be affected too. Ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are associated with other issues. However, when symptoms are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be persistent and noticeably different from how you normally feel physically. If you have any of the below symptoms more than 12 times a month, it’s time to see your doctor:

1. Persistent bloating

This is where your stomach feels swollen or bloated. You may be able to see the difference and the swelling may feel hard or painful when you touch it. 

2. Abdominal pain

A feeling of pain or discomfort in your lower tummy area or lower back is something to watch out for. You may feel pain as far down as your pelvis or even in your leg.

3. Feeling full quickly 

If you often find you don’t feel like eating or you start to feel full after eating only a small amount of food and this is a change from the usual for you, it’s worth telling your GP.

4. Needing to urinate frequently or feeling like you need to go

If you need to urinate more often than usual, feel like you need to go all the time or find you can’t hold it in and urgently need to find a toilet, you may need to have this investigated by a doctor.

5. Weight loss

Losing weight through dieting and exercise is expected but losing weight for no reason can be a sign that something is not right.

6. Unexplained tiredness

A sudden feeling of tiredness or feeling very worn out for no reason can be a symptom of many things, but if you have other symptoms listed here it may point to something more serious.

7. Pain during sex

Ovarian cancer can cause hormonal changes that may mean sex becomes uncomfortable. If you start to feel pain during sex it could also be a sign that a tumour is pressing on your vagina. 

8. Changes in your bowels

If you find you frequently get constipated or suffer from indigestion or an upset tummy, it’s more likely that you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) than ovarian cancer. But it is still worth seeing your GP as they will be able to check it’s nothing more serious and help you with treatment. 

What to do if you have some or all of these symptoms

If you’re experiencing some or all of these symptoms, try not to worry. Many conditions that are less serious than ovarian cancer can cause these symptoms. However, you should still take these symptoms seriously and see your doctor, especially if you experience them more than 12 times a month, the changes are unusual for you, or you have them continuously. 

As with most types of cancer, early diagnosis can make a big difference to your prognosis: 80-90% of women diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer survive for five years or more after diagnosis, compared to 28-40% who are diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.

Who is at risk of developing ovarian cancer?

As with many conditions, there is no guaranteed way to prevent ovarian cancer, but there are lifestyle changes that will reduce your risk of getting ill. Risks are higher for people who are overweight, smoke or take hormone replacement treatment (HRT). It’s also more prevalent in older people, women who give birth over the age of 35 and women with a family history of breast, ovarian or colorectal cancer or those carrying the BRCA gene mutation

The risks of ovarian cancer are lower in those who take oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, for five years or more, and may be lower in those who breastfeed.

Gynaecological surgery, including hysterectomy (removal of the womb) and ovary removal or tubal ligation (also known as female sterilisation or having your tubes tied), may reduce your risk. However, these procedures should only be performed if there is a valid medical reason eg if you have a family history of ovarian cancer. 

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.