We are in the middle of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, but can you spot the symptoms that will save your life asks Faz Pakarian, consultant gynaecologist with The Montefiore Hospital in Hove.
“Despite awareness campaigns, many women are still not confident in spotting the symptoms of ovarian cancer and therefore they don’t seek help until the disease has spread. They may confuse the symptoms with other health problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or simply ignore the changes in their body.
“There is no screening programme for ovarian cancer, like there is for breast and cervical cancers, so the onus is on women to be aware of their symptoms and seek early diagnosis.
If ovarian cancer is caught early, the survival rate is 90 per cent.
I would urge all women who have had persistent symptoms (see below) to visit their GP as soon as possible. `Persistent’ means longer than one month, so keep a diary and take this with you to your appointment.”
The key symptoms that should trigger a visit to the GP are: persistent bloating of the stomach, feeling full easily, loss of appetite, needing to wee more frequently and more urgently, weight loss
Tests for ovarian cancer: Your GP will do a blood test to check for a protein called CA125. A raised level of CA125 doesn’t always mean you have ovarian cancer as it can also indicate other conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease and pregnancy.
Likewise, if the blood test comes back normal but you are still having the symptoms, go back to your GP as you may need to be tested again.
If your CA125 level is raised, you’ll be referred for an ultrasound scan within two weeks.
And if ovarian cancer is suspected, you will be referred to a multidisciplinary team for further tests.
If it is ovarian cancer, you are likely to need surgery and possibly chemotherapy. The main priority of your treatment is to save your life, but if you are of child-bearing age, it is important to talk about your fertility needs with the medical team before treatment starts.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer: Family history - Women with two or more very close relatives, such as a mum or sister, who have had ovarian cancer are more at risk of getting the disease themselves. However, only about five per cent to 10 per cent of all ovarian cancers are thought to be hereditary.
Age - Ovarian cancer is rare in young women with 80 per cent of all diagnoses in women aged over 50.
Obesity - according to Cancer UK figures, seven per cent of ovarian cancer cases are caused by obesity.
Smoking - smoking is a risk factor for a number of cancers.
Mr Faz Pakarian holds a one-stop clinic for assessment of ovarian cancer including a CA125 blood test and an ultrasound scan at The Montefiore Hospital, Montefiore Road, Hove.
Visit www.themontefiorehospital.co.uk or phone 01273 828 148.