Understanding ovarian cancer could help with earlier detection

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month occurs every February to help raise awareness about the disease and recognise the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and their families who are affected by it.

Ovarian cancer is a disease where some of the cells in one or both ovaries start to grow abnormally and develop into cancer. The most common type of ovarian cancer is Epithelial ovarian cancer which occurs in 90% of confirmed cases. There is no definitive test to confirm the presence of ovarian cancer without surgery. Doctors that suspect ovarian cancer will conduct a number of tests to help diagnose the disease including blood tests and transvaginal ultrasounds. Should these tests strongly suggest the presence of ovarian cancer, doctors will highly recommend surgery.

This year, Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA) is urging women to ‘know ovarian cancer’ by understanding the disease, recognising the signs and symptoms and knowing their family history. The campaign highlights the importance of knowing ovarian cancer as there is no early detection test to diagnose the disease. According to OCA ‘only 43% of the almost 1,500 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year will survive’. This is a frightening statistic, one that requires more attention.

What are the symptoms?

There are four common types of symptoms that women diagnosed with ovarian cancer reported most frequently. According to OCA these symptoms include:

  1. abdominal or pelvic pain
  2. increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  3. needing to urinate often or urgently
  4. feeling full after eating a small amount.

It is recommended that you monitor these symptoms for four weeks and, if they are consistent over the four week period, go to your GP for a check-up. OCA developed a symptom diary to help you track your symptoms and other signs including:

  • changes in bowel habits
  • bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
  • unexplained weight gain or loss
  • lower back pain
  • indigestion or nausea
  • excessive fatigue
  • pain during sex or bleeding after sex.

While it is important to be aware of these symptoms and take the appropriate measures to understanding the cause of these symptoms it is also important to note that suffering from any one of the above symptoms does not mean you have ovarian cancer. There are other common causes which your doctor should rule out before considering the possibility of ovarian cancer. However, if there is no clear reason for these symptoms to persist then your doctor should consider further testing for ovarian cancer. If you feel uncomfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis then seek further advice from another physician.

Know your risk factors

Research into ovarian cancer in Australia is ongoing as there is still uncertainty around the causes of the disease. There are some risk factors that may increase a woman’s risk in developing ovarian cancer, including:

  • age
  • genetics and family history
  • child-bearing history
  • endometriosis
  • lifestyle factors
  • hormonal factors.

However, these risk factors are inconclusive as there have been many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer that did not present any risk factors, while women that have these risk factors never develop the disease. It is important nonetheless to know your risk factors and rule out any possibility of developing ovarian cancer.

Article by Jamie Smith from Aspen Corporate Health