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Spotting Ovarian Cancer: the Subtle Signs to Look Out for

ByDave Stopher

Jan 23, 2019 #health, #Live

Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women, so it’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms as soon as possible. Read on for further guidance…

Unfortunately, cancer is something all of us are likely to experience at one point or another. No matter who you speak to, there’s a distinct chance that cancer has played a part in their life – whether they had cancer themselves or had to support someone else.

Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common forms of the disease in women, mainly affecting those who have been through the menopause. However, it can actually affect women of all ages, which means it’s absolutely vital to understand the associated symptoms.

Not being able to recognise the signs of ovarian cancer could lead to delays in cancer diagnosis – the consequences of which are likely to be severe. That’s why getting to know the potential signs and symptoms is so important! If you’re unsure what to look for, then this short guide should be of use…

How Common is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is commonly diagnosed, and exclusively affects women. Previous research has indicated that there are around 7,400 new ovarian cancer cases every year in the UK – meaning 20 women are diagnosed every day.

This cancer is the sixth most common form for women in the UK, accounting for 4 percent of all new cancer cases in women. Almost a quarter of all new ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in women aged 75 and over.

Research has also indicated that white women are more commonly affected compared to women from BAME backgrounds.

What are the Causes of Ovarian Cancer?

While it’s not yet possible to determine exactly what causes ovarian cancer, there are a number of potential factors which could increase the likelihood of someone being diagnosed.

The NHS has previously published guidance suggesting that:

  • Age;
  • Family history of cancer;
  • Hormone replacement therapy;
  • and poor general health

can all be contributing factors that increase the risk of developing this type of cancer.

Another potential cause of ovarian cancer could be related to a medical condition known as endometriosis. This is where the tissue that acts as the lining of the womb is found growing in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Are there Different Types of Ovarian Cancer?

There are several types of ovarian cancer that you should be aware of:

Epithelial Ovarian Cancer

This is the most common form of ovarian cancer, where cancers form in the cells covering the ovaries. Around 90 percent of ovarian tumours are this type.

Germ Cell Ovarian Cancer

Germ cell ovarian tumours are a much rarer form, primarily affecting young girls and women up to their early 30’s. Germ cell ovarian tumours begin in the ovarian cells that develop into eggs.

Sex Cord Stromal Tumours

Sex cord stromal tumours are rare tumours of the ovary. They start in the stroma or the sex cords. The stroma and the sex cords are tissues that support the ovary and from which different cells develop.

What are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?

There are a number of potential symptoms that could point towards ovarian cancer, all of which are relatively simple to spot. Spotting the signs of ovarian cancer at an early stage is absolutely vital, so it’s important to be as clued up as possible.

It’s been found that the most common symptoms for ovarian cancer are as follows:

  • A constant bloating feeling
  • A swollen tummy
  • Discomfort in your tummy or pelvis
  • Quickly feeling full when eating
  • Losing appetite
  • Needing to urinate much more often than usual

There are also some other less common symptoms, which are just as important to be aware of. They include:

  • Constant indigestion
  • Pain during sex
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Back pain
  • Constant fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Of course, if you experience any of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have ovarian cancer, but it’s always sensible to talk to a GP if you’ve got any concerns.

How Can You Check for Ovarian Cancer?

Unlike some other forms of cancer, such as breast or testicular cancer, it’s not easy to check for this by yourself. Instead, you’ll need the help of a medical professional, who can carry out a number of additional checks.

If you speak to a GP, they may start by carrying out various examinations. This could include carrying out tummy and pelvis examinations, checking for signs of swelling or lumps. They may also carry out an internal examination to check for any other potential signs of ovarian cancer and send you to a gynaecologist for further tests.

Blood Tests

A GP may also see fit to carry out a blood test, which is also sometimes called a CA125 test. This test checks for a substance called CA125, which is produced by ovarian cancer cells. If you show high levels of CA125 in your blood, this could be sign of ovarian cancer.

If this is indeed the case, your GP will likely send you for an ultrasound test, either on your abdomen, or through your vagina. This will create a clearer image of your ovaries, and assess if there are any issues present.

How is Ovarian Cancer Treated?

If you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the treatment you receive will depend on a number of factors, including how far it has spread, your age and general health. Your treatment may be one of the following, or a combination of:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Targeted therapies

Surgery

Surgery tends to be the main treatment for ovarian cancer, with the aim being to remove the cancer itself, or as much of it as possible. This could mean removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes, the womb or the omentum (fatty tissue in the tummy).

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is where medicine is used to kill the cancer cells. In many cases, chemotherapy is used in addition to surgery. The medicine can be dripped into a vein or given as tablets, and tends to be given in cycles to allow your body the proper period of rest to recover.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is not commonly used to treat ovarian cancer, but is still a potential option. This involved using beams of radiation to kill the cancer cells, or to reduce the size of cancerous tumours if the cancer has spread and cannot be cured.

Targeted Therapies

These are medicines which change the way the cells work, helping to stop the disease from spreading and growing. The two targeted therapies for ovarian cancer are:

  • Olaparib (Lynparza)
  • Niraparib (Zejula)

Do You Any Concerns About Ovarian Cancer?

Hopefully this post has given you a better understanding of ovarian cancer and the signs to keep an eye on before it’s too late.

Have you got any further questions, or do you have any advice for others? Feel free to leave a comment below so we can get as much information out there as possible!

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