Be Ovarian Cancer Aware

04/03/2016

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and in Northern Ireland there were an average of 158 people diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer between 2009-2013 and 119 deaths. Ovarian Cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women and is strongly related to age with almost 85% occurring in women over the age of 50.

Early diagnosis is key and a patient has a better chance of Ovarian Cancer being diagnosed at an early stage the sooner they seek medical advice. When women are diagnosed at the earliest stage, the chance of survival with Ovarian Cancer for five years or more doubles from just 46% to more than 90%. Survival from Ovarian Cancer has almost doubled over the past 30 years.

At the moment, there is no screening test that is accurate and reliable enough to detect Ovarian Cancer in the general public. Although, research trials are being carried out to see whether Ovarian Cancer can be detected early so that they can be treated more effectively. It is important to know that smear tests do not detect ovarian cancer.

The symptoms of Ovarian Cancer can be difficult to recognise, particularly in the early stages of the disease. Only 3% of women are confident in spotting a symptom of Ovarian Cancer. A recent survey by Target Ovarian suggested that women in Northern Ireland are the least aware in the UK when it comes to recognising symptoms of Ovarian Cancer. The Northern Ireland Public Health Agency has launched an Ovarian Awareness Programme to highlight the signs and symptoms of Ovarian Cancer.

Early symptoms would include those similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, for example persistent bloating, difficulty eating, feeling full quickly and persistent abdominal and pelvic pain. Later symptoms would include loss of appetite, indigestion, nausea, pain on intercourse, increased abdominal size, urinary and bowel habit changes, shortness of breath, lower back pain, tiredness and abnormal vagina bleeding.

It is important to remember that these symptoms are also common in less serious conditions, but if these symptoms do not go away you should consult with your GP who can arrange investigations to find the cause. Most women with symptoms like these will not have cancer.

The cause for Ovarian Cancer is not known, although there are factors which are known to affect a woman’s chance of developing Ovarian Cancer. Factors would include increased age, post-menopausal, taking HRT for more than five years, obesity, a diet with high animal fat or low in fresh fruit and vegetables, women who have never been pregnant or if there is a history of Endometriosis. A family history of a first degree relative (mother, sister, and daughter) who has or has had Ovarian, Breast or Bowel Cancer may also increase the risk of developing Ovarian Cancer.

This risk is further increased if there are two or more first degree relatives who have Ovarian, Breast or Bowel Cancer. Less than 1 in 10 Ovarian Cancer cases have no family link. Only about 5-10% cancers of the Ovary are related to a faulty gene such as BRAC1 and BRAC2 genes, and an inherited disease known as Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC). Genetic testing can determine if you or your family carry these genes and you should consult your GP for further advice. Women with an increased risk of Ovarian Cancer should speak with their doctor.

To help reduce your risk of developing Ovarian Cancer you should take regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and avoid being overweight. Evidence suggests that women who breast feed their children have a lower risk of Ovarian Cancer than those who do not. Around 1,200 cases of Ovarian Cancer in the UK could be avoided if women were able to breast feed each child for at least 6 months.