This month (March) is ovarian cancer awareness month and a leading cancer GP across the Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire area is encouraging local women to understand the signs and symptoms of the illness.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer death in women, after breast, lung and bowel cancer with around 7,000 women diagnosed every year in the UK. Many women incorrectly believe that a cervical smear test is able to detect ovarian cancer and that it has no symptoms.
Dr Neil Smith, Macmillan GP for NHS Blackburn with Darwen and NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise, particularly in early stages. This is because they are often the same as symptoms of other less serious conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or pre-menstrual syndrome.
“Unfortunately, far too many women get diagnosed too late when the cancer has spread, making treatment options more difficult. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, the chance of surviving ovarian cancer for five years or more doubles from just 46 per cent to more than 90 per cent.”
The following symptoms are more frequent in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer:
- increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes);
- persistent pelvic and abdominal pain; and
- difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous.
Other symptoms can include unexpected weight loss, change in bowel habits, and extreme fatigue.
Alarmingly, 80 per cent of women in the UK cannot name any of these symptoms and data from Public Health England shows that 97 per cent of women do not link persistent bloating with ovarian cancer.
Dr Smith added: “The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age and most cases are found in women over 50. However some types of this cancer do appear in much younger women; nobody is immune to it, which is why it’s crucial that more women are aware of the signs.
“Lots of women get symptoms like these from time to time, the symptoms associated with ovarian cancer are persistent. If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, which are not normal for you, it’s important that you see your doctor.
“While you’re waiting for your appointment, keep a diary to record how frequent your symptoms are. This will help your GP understand what might be causing them.”
“By ensuring more women are aware of ovarian cancer symptoms we can increase the likelihood of an early diagnosis should women develop this cancer. Women diagnosed in the earlier stages have a much greater chance of survival.
“If you think you may have any of the symptoms or are concerned about your ovarian cancer risk you should make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.”