7 common symptoms of ovarian cancer
To mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Lisa Salmon outlines some typical – but all too often missed – warning signs of this deadly disease.
It’s often described as a ‘silent killer’ and affects more than 7,000 women in the UK each year – yet figures show there’s still a huge lack of awareness when it comes to recognising the signs of ovarian cancer.
As a result, this deadliest of all gynaecological cancers is often detected late, meaning that only 46% of women diagnosed with it will survive beyond five years.
The UK has one of the lowest ovarian cancer survival rates in western Europe – 4,100 women die each year from the disease, which equates to one woman every two hours.
To mark March’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, figures released by the research charity Ovarian Cancer Action (ovarian.org.uk) show that each year, ovarian cancer steals more than 90,000 years from UK women who die before their time.
While it’s far more rare in younger women (around 84% of ovarian cancer cases are in women aged over 50, and more than half are over-65), it’s important to remember that it can strike at any age. Though it’s not always possible to say why ovarian cancer occurs, there are some known risk-factors, including genes (women with the BRCA1/2 gene mutation can be at significantly greater risk, or if two or more close blood relatives have had the disease under the age of 50). Women who started their periods particularly early or started menopause quite late, plus those who’ve never carried children, may be more likely to develop ovarian cancer too, along with those with a history of endometriosis. Research also shows using oestrogen-only or combined HRT can increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer (only 1% of cases are linked to HRT but it’s a good idea to fully discuss all the pros and cons with your doctor).
But being aware of the symptoms is vital for all women – and GPs and doctors – as early diagnosis is the best way to ensure ovarian cancer can be successfully treated.
Part of the problem is, because of their subtle nature, Jo Stanford, cancer prevention officer at Ovarian Cancer Action, says the symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as ovarian cysts and polycystic ovaries. Of course – often the symptoms ARE down to something more common and less sinister, like IBS, but the important thing is to get them checked out, just in case. Here are seven potential ovarian cancer symptoms you should never ignore…
1. Persistent bloating
This is a common symptom of ovarian cancer. Bloating might be accompanied by pain or an increased need to pass wind, and isn’t affected by food and medication. However, it’s often mistaken for problems such as IBS, food allergies and gastric infections. Sometimes the bloating may be visible, and in advanced ovarian cancer, a football-sized lump may be seen in women’s abdomens – it might even look like a pregnancy bump.
2. Persistent abdominal pain
This pain will be around the tummy, abdomen and/or pelvic area, and will be constant rather than intermittent, with no obvious explanation. Again, this is often mistaken for conditions such as IBS, gastric infections and menstrual cramps.
3. Needing to urinate more frequently
A noticeable increase in how often a woman needs to wee is also a common symptom, as well as noticing that you need to take multiple trips to the toilet during the night. There will be no obvious reason for this increase, such as drinking significantly more fluid than usual. This symptom can often be misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection.
4. Difficulty eating or feeling full more quickly
Eating noticeably less than usual, despite feeling hungry, is another key sign to look out for. Women may sit down to eat a meal as normal but feel full much quicker than usual, often leaving large amounts of food. This may sometimes be accompanied by a complete loss of appetite, although not always.
5. Changes in bowel habits
This could be going to the toilet a lot more often, or much less frequently than usual. You may not necessarily experience extreme constipation or diarrhoea either. There will be no obvious explanation for this change, such as a change of diet or medication use.
6. Extreme tiredness or unexplained weight loss
Look out for a constant feeling of being extremely tired, despite there being no change in lifestyle, sleep patterns, diet or medications. Losing a noticeable amount of weight over a short period of time can also be a red flag, particularly if you haven’t made any changes to diet, lifestyle or the amount of food consumed.
7. Back pain
Pain in the lower back, often mistaken for a pulled muscle or strain, can sometimes be caused by ovarian cancer. There will be no obvious reason for the pain and it will persist, rather than improve.
If you experience any of these symptoms, have a chat with your doctor. Ovarian Cancer Action also recommends women keep a record of their symptoms to take with them to the GP. The charity has also created a ‘symptoms diary’ which women can download from their website to help make recording symptoms easier. Visit ovarian.org.uk.
Have you got a health question?
We've teamed up with AXA PPP healthcare to bring you articles, information and tips from their clinical teams on a wide range of health topics. And if you have a health related question of your own - about your or your family's health, medication or upcoming procedures, for example - you can also access their, "Ask the Expert" service. Available around the clock, 365 days a year this free resource allows you to ask the team of friendly and experienced nurses, midwives and pharmacists about any health concerns you may have - whenever you need them, 24 hours a day, every day. Please get in touch now.
Click below to submit your question online.
The Press Association
Latest posts by The Press Association (see all)
- Big Garden Birdwatch: Warmer weather could boost tiny birds’ survival chances - January 24, 2020
- Quiz: Do remember the currencies these European countries had before the Euro? - January 24, 2020
- Ask an expert: How much exercise should you be doing over the age of 50? - January 23, 2020
- 5 symptoms of kidney cancer everyone should be aware of - January 22, 2020
- Worried about waterlogging? How to look after your garden when wet weather strikes - January 21, 2020
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!