March is Ovarian Cancer Month – one of the most common types of cancer in women.
And it’s a hugely important cancer to be aware of – the earlier it’s diagnosed and treated, the higher your chances of a successful outcome.
And although we’re reaching the end of the month, nothing will change as we come into April – ovarian cancer will continue to affect women all over the world, so I thought it was really important to put together a piece that’ll raise awareness, and ensure that you know enough about it, as well as the warning signs to give yourself the very best chance of an early diagnosis and treatment.
I’m very grateful to our partners over at Penny Brohn for providing us with a lot of useful background information, as well as a story for those dealing with ovarian cancer.
So, without further ado, here’s some of what you need to know, courtesy of Penny Brohn…
What are the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- feeling constantly bloated.
- a swollen tummy.
- discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area.
- feeling full quickly when eating.
- needing to pee more often than usual or experiencing bowel problems.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are not always easy to recognise because they’re like those of some more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Therefore, it’s important to see your GP if:
- you have been feeling bloated, particularly more than 12 times in one month.
- you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer (listed above) that will not go away.
- you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it.
A GP can do some simple tests to see if you have it. The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure. But often it’s not recognised until it’s already spread and a cure is not possible. Therefore, if you have already seen a GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this.
What are the causes of Ovarian Cancer?
The exact cause of cancer of the ovaries is unknown, but there are a few factors that can increase your risk slightly, such as:
- being over the age of 50,
- a family history of ovarian or breast cancer– this could mean you have inherited genes that increase your cancer risk.
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT)– although any increase in cancer risk is likely to be very small.
- endometriosis– a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb.
- being overweight/having a higher BMI.
- lack of exercise.
- exposure to asbestos.
How is it treated?
Treatment of ovarian cancer depends on things such as how far the cancer has spread and your general health.
The main treatments are:
- surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible – this will often involve removing both ovaries, the womb and the tubes connecting them to each other (fallopian tubes),
- chemotherapy – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer.
What are the side effects of ovarian cancer treatment?
- surgical menopause – surgery and chemotherapy for younger women who have not gone through menopause can mean that their menopause starts much sooner than it would naturally. This can bring about a range of additional side effects,
- suppressed immune system making you more likely to catch infections and viruses,
- numbness in fingers and toes,
- hair loss.
Can you live well, despite ovarian cancer?
Yes. Through the fantastic work done by Penny Brohn, many patients have learnt to live well with ovarian cancer.
One inspirational story is told by a man named Jim, whose wife Sandra was diagnosed in 2013 – click here to read the full story on Penny Brohn’s website.
And of course, our 365 Days of Cancers service can help support you or a loved one for an entire year – click here to find out more about it now.