Dear doctor, are there any screening programmes for ovarian cancer or any risk factors that I should be aware of?

27 March 2019

Q: I have heard so much in the news lately about ovarian cancer which has made me worry about the signs and symptoms. Are there any screening programmes for ovarian cancer or any risk factors that I should be aware of?

A: Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women and around 7.400 women are diagnosed with the cancer in the UK each year. The disease tends to get a lot of publicity because it is often diagnosed late and the symptoms are very unspecific.

Ovarian cancer is more common in older women, particularly after menopause. Most cases are sporadic without a strong family history, which means that women with close relatives with the disease don’t necessarily face an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer themselves.

There are a few factors that appear to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, such as taking oral contraceptive pills, having children and breastfeeding.

I would like to say we have a test that can detect ovarian cancer early, but unfortunately I don’t have a clear answer at the moment. A large clinical trial published in 2015 looked at whether screening tests, such as ultrasound or a blood test, could be used for diagnosing ovarian cancer at an early stage, but the answer was not clear-cut. Screening did improve survival for a small group of all the women tested. In view of this, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is investigating whether to recommend screening for ovarian cancer.

In the meantime, the government has issued a list of symptoms that women should look out for and that doctors need to be aware of. These include abdominal discomfort, bloating, loss of appetite and needing to wee more urgently.

If you have any of these symptoms or are worried about ovarian cancer, you could consider speaking to your doctor who can investigate further or refer you to a specialist.

Find out more about Mr Dirk Brinkmann, Consultant Gynaecologist and Cancer Surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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