Ovarian cancer- the silent killer

03 March 2016

t is often called ‘the silent killer’ but now women are being encouraged to ‘make some noise’ in a bid to make the symptoms of ovarian cancer better known to everyone.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer amongst women in the UK with more than 7,000 women diagnosed each year with 4,300 deaths annually. One in 50 women will have ovarian cancer in their lifetime. But because symptoms are not well known or often mistaken then it is usually discovered in the late stages when successful treatment is much more difficult.

Now, as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month which runs throughout March, Mrs Latthe, a consultant gynaecologist at Spire Little Aston Hospital in Sutton Coldfield, has called on women to be constantly on the lookout for possible symptoms – urging them not to dismiss them as ‘tummy troubles’.

She said: “Far too many women are dismissing the symptoms for too long before going to see their GP. Unfortunately there is not always a specific symptom and the symptoms could be vague so it is difficult to spot which can contribute to GPs sometimes suspecting Irritable Bowel Syndrome as being the problem.”  

Unfortunately, although early diagnosis is crucial to a successful treatment, ovarian cancer is particularly difficult to diagnose and, like cervical cancer, there is no established screening programme. 

“When women are diagnosed in the early stages of ovarian cancer they have a 90% chance of surviving for more than five years but this reduces to even less than 40% when diagnosed in the later stages so it is important they know what symptoms to look for and that they make their GP aware of those symptoms as soon as possible,” said Mrs Latthe.

The four main symptoms to look out for are:

  • Persistent bloating or increased stomach size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to urinate more frequently
  • Persistent stomach pain

“My advice to any woman suffering from any of these symptoms is to go to their GP and discuss the matter thoroughly. Women must feel confident that when they visit their GP with any of the symptoms mentioned above they will be examined with the possibility of ovarian cancer in mind,” said Mrs Latthe.

Ovarian Cancer risk factors

Family history: If you have two or more relatives from the same side of your family affected by ovarian, or ovarian and breast cancer, your risk may be increased. There are now genetic tests available to assess the risk of developing ovarian cancer. In certain situations it may be appropriate to undergo a keyhole surgery to remove ovaries to reduce the risk. However there are risks as well benefits and that needs discussion with your GP and the specialist.

Age: The majority of cases occur in women over the age of 40. However some types of ovarian cancer do appear in women from the age of 20 onwards.

Childbirth: There is a slightly increased risk to women who have not had children, or have not breastfed.

Weight: Being overweight may also increase risk.

Other factors: There is no convincing proof that pelvic inflammation increases the risk of ovarian cancer. However, there is strong evidence that the oral contraceptive pill considerably reduces the risk of this cancer. 

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