Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women after breast and womb cancer, with approximately 7,000 women in the U.K diagnosed with the disease each year.
What is ovarian cancer?
Women have two sets of ovaries that make up the female reproductive system. Ovaries have two main functions; to produce the female hormones progesterone and oestrogen as well as producing and storing eggs for reproduction.
Ovarian Cancer happens when abnormal cells in the ovaries grow and multiply uncontrollably, creating a tumour. If the tumour is malignant it is cancerous and, if left untreated it may grow and spread to other parts of the body.
There are three types of ovarian tumours: epithelial, sex-cord stromal and germ cell. Approximately 90% of ovarian cancer tumours are epithelial and these tumours mostly occur in women between the ages of 40 and 60. Hence we often hear “ovarian cancer is common in older women”
Symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is also known as the “Silent Killer” due to its symptoms often mimicking other health conditions such as Irresistible Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), making it difficult to recognise the signs early.
Here are five main symptoms of ovarian cancer:
Feeling full quickly.
Needing to pee more often than usual.
Other symptoms include:
Unintentional weight loss.
Pain during sex.
Vaginal bleeding (bleeding after menopause).
Persistent indigestion or nausea.
There is currently no screening tool available that can detect ovarian cancer early and therefore it is important to know the key symptoms and see your doctor if you have been feeling bloated almost everyday or experiencing other symptoms of ovarian cancer for 3 consecutive weeks.
Causes of ovarian cancer.
It is not clear yet what exactly causes ovarian cancer, however the following factors may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer:
The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases as you get older, with most cases common in women going through menopause (40+). However ovarian cancer still affects younger women, it’s therefore important to know the key symptoms regardless of your age.
You are more likely to develop ovarian cancer, if you come from a family with history of ovarian cancer as you may have inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 Gene which increases your risk by 40% to 60%. While having a faulty BRCA Gene does not guarantee you will get ovarian cancer, with only around 1 in every 10 ovarian cancer cases thought to be caused by a faulty gene, it’s still important to be aware of your family history.
To check if your family history puts you at risk of ovarian cancer, visit Ovarian Cancer Action and speak to your doctor if you are worried your family history may mean you are at a higher risk, as they may refer you to see a genetic counsellor.
Recent research has shown that women with endometriosis are more likely to develop ovarian cancer.
In endometriosis, the cells that line the womb grow in other organs in the body, such as in the ovaries or stomach. These cells will behave as if they were in the womb, including bleeding during periods. But as there is no way for the bleeding to leave the body, it becomes trapped causing pain in the affected area.
Other factors that may increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer:
Being overweight or obese.
Your doctor may perform the following tests when checking for ovarian cancer:
Feel your stomach to check for any swelling or lumps.
Blood (CA125) test - CA125 is produced by some ovarian cancer cells, a high reading of CA125 in your blood could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
Ultrasound (abdominal or transvaginal) - the scan can identify any changes in your ovaries that could be caused by cancer or other gynaecological problems.
Biopsy - a needle is passed through your stomach to take a sample of cells or fluid from around the ovaries so that it can be checked for cancer.
Stages of ovarian cancer.
There are four stages of ovarian cancer;
Stage 1 - cancer has affected one or both of the ovaries.
Stage 2 - cancer has spread from the ovaries to the womb or pelvis
Stage 3 - cancer has spread to the lining of the stomach, bowel surface or the lymph glands in the pelvis
Stage 4 - cancer has spread to other organs such as the lungs
**** The Gynae Chick is solely for support services and is not to be constructed as medical advice or to be replaced as medical professional advice. Whilst, our aim is to share experiences, educate and learn from one another, none of this information should replace the advice of medical professional and encourage you to reach out to your doctor to full medical advice.