March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month.
What is Ovarian cancer?
It is cancer of the ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of small glands, each the size and shape of an almond. They are located low in the stomach area, on opposite sides of the womb and are attached to the womb by an ovarian ligament. They are the most important organs of the female reproductive system. They store a woman’s supply of eggs as well as play a significant role in producing female sex hormones that control reproduction. Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women. Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries grow and multiply uncontrollably, producing a lump of tissue called a tumour.
What should you look out for?
The most common sign of ovarian cancer is feeling bloated most days for three weeks or more. Other symptoms are:
- feeling full quickly or loss of appetite
- pelvic and/or stomach pain or discomfort
- needing to pee urgently or more frequently than normal
- changes in bowel habit – constipation or diarrhoea
- feeling very tired
- losing weight without trying
These symptoms are very similar to other more common health conditions like Irritable Bowels Syndrome (IBS). Having any of these symptoms does not mean that you have ovarian cancer but it is safer and better to see your GP for a simple test to check if you may have it. If you’ve already seen your GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this. The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure.
Treatment for ovarian cancer are mainly surgical removal of the cancer and chemotherapy.
Factors that may increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Being over 50
- Being post-menopausal
- Family history of ovarian cancer
- Taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
- Having endometriosis
- Being overweight – losing weight may lower your risk
- Smoking – quitting may lower your risk
- Using talcum powder between your legs
Factors that could lessen your risk include:
- taking the contraceptive pill
- having children
Further reading about ovarian cancer, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and risk factors can be found on these sites:
NHS Choices, Ovacom, Target Ovarian Cancer