Sarah Says

Dr. Sarah Jarvis' health & wellness blog on Patient.co.uk

Cancer of the ovary – the information that could save your life

Cancer of the ovary is the fourth most common cancer in women, with about 7,000 women diagnosed every year in the UK.

Yet while the newspapers are full of stories about breast cancer, cancer of the ovary makes very few headlines. This is partly because cancer of the ovary has such a high death rate that relatively few women survive to tell their tales.

50's challenge - ovarian cancer awareness

Target Ovarian Cancer campaign

1 in 50 women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime, so TOC are asking fundraisers to inform 50 women to raise (at least) £50, and are inviting women to have a 1950s theme to fundraising.

If cancer of the ovary is found and can be treated in the early stages, up to 95% of women will survive for more than five years. Compare that with the present situation – most women are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread. That means that at the moment, only 3 out of 10 women diagnosed with cancer of the ovary survive for more than five years, despite receiving the best medical care.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible, as yet, to find a way of screening for cancer of the ovary that offers the same benefits as mammography for breast cancer or cervical smears for cervical cancer. But new research on identifying early symptoms may offer real hope for the future.

Ovarian cancer – the good news


The main reason that so many women with cancer of the ovary present late is that until recently, it hasn’t been possible to advise on which symptoms should make you seek medical advice. The early symptoms of ovarian cancer are often very vague, and can be easily mistaken for more common (but less worrying) problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

However, new research has shown that by making women aware of combinations of symptoms, we should be able to help them seek help earlier.

Keys to identifying worrying symptoms, which should trigger a visit to the doctor, include:

  • Are any of them happening on more than 12 days in a month?
  • Have they started recently (eg within the last year)?

   The main warning symptoms include any one or more of:

  • Feeling full persistently
  • Difficulty eating
  • Tummy or pelvic pain
  • Bloating or increased size of the tummy

And, less specific to early cancer but worth bearing in mind:

  • Excessive tiredness
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Needing to rush to pass water
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (which you should always see your GP about after the menopause, even if it only happens once)
  • Changes in bowel habit

Of course, your doctor may be able to reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about. But even if he can’t, getting a diagnosis early may make all the difference.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Posted by Dr Sarah Jarvis
Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.