March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, serving an important reminder of the signs of ovarian cancer to help ensure an earlier diagnosis. Through raising awareness of the signs and symptoms, it could be possible to get ovarian cancer treated sooner and help bring down the statistics that put it as the sixth biggest cause of death by cancer. Find out the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and learn how you can help spread the word.
About Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month takes place every March as a way of raising money to fund research and projects. The campaign aims to help women understand the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and encourages them to get symptoms checked out as soon as possible. The theme of this year’s campaign is TAKE OVAR, offering several ways in which people can get involved and help raise awareness.
Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is diagnosed in 7,300 women each year. Unlike many cancers, such as cervical or lung cancer, ovarian cancer isn’t considered preventable. It doesn’t show on a smear test, and the symptoms can be difficult to identify. Some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Persistent bloating
- Having a swollen stomach
- Discomfort in the pelvis and stomach area
- A loss of appetite or feeling full quickly when eating
- A frequent need to urinate, or needing to urinate more urgently
Some of the other signs of ovarian cancer include:
- Nausea or indigestion
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Changes to bowel habits
- Back pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Persistent tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
The NHS recommends that you see your GP if you’ve experienced bloating for more than three weeks, or if you’ve had some of the signs above that haven’t gone away – particularly if you’re over 50. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, you could be at a greater risk.
Ovarian cancer is more common in women over 50, with 8 in 10 diagnoses occurring within this age group. Some of the potential causes of ovarian cancer include family history. Having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene could increase your risk. Ovarian Cancer Action has a useful tool to help you recognise if your family history could pose a risk. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and endometriosis could also increase your risk of developing the disease.
While the exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, you can help reduce some of the risk factors by living a healthier lifestyle. Keeping your heart healthy, eating a balanced, healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise can all help in this regard. If you’re a smoker, you should give up permanently to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer as well as other serious illnesses.
Testing for ovarian cancer
If you have some of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, you should make an appointment with your GP to get tested. As part of your appointment, your doctor will ask you about your lifestyle, your symptoms and your family history. You will be given an external examination to check for lumps or swelling, and your doctor may also suggest an internal examination. A blood test that checks for CA125 (a substance produced by ovarian cancer cells) might be carried out, or your doctor might refer you to a gynaecologist for further testing or an ultrasound.
There are several support services available to you in East Berkshire if you suspect you might have ovarian cancer. You should contact your primary care centre in the first instance, but if you get in touch with 111 or see your doctor out of hours, you’ll be given advice on how to proceed.
You can also do your bit this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month by reading up on the signs and symptoms, as well as having conversations with friends and family or taking part in fundraising activities. Get clued up this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and play your part in spreading the word.