Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynaecological cancer in the UK and is diagnosed in over 7,000 women a year. Nearly two thirds (64%) or 4,500 of those diagnosed will die from the disease, making it the biggest gynaecological killer of women in the UK. It is the fifth most common cancer among women after breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the uterus (womb).
A recent medical study suggested that nine out of ten women did not know the symptoms of ovarian cancer. This month, March 2014, various charities across the UK are highlighting the symptoms of this killer disease in the hope that it will result in earlier detection and save lives.
Some women may be at a higher risk of the disease including those who have two or more close relatives who have developed ovarian cancer or breast cancer. It is believed that, if relatives develop cancer before the age of 50, it may be the result of an inherited “faulty gene” and that one in 10 ovarian cancers are caused by this faulty gene. It is also widely recognised that the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age and most cases of ovarian cancer occur after the menopause.
There are currently no screening programs widely available in the UK.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to those of other conditions and it is therefore difficult to detect but all GPs should consider the possibility that women presenting with the following four common symptoms have the disease:
GPs should be careful to take a family history and take these symptoms seriously making appropriate referrals for further investigations where warranted.
As with most types of cancer, the outlook largely depends on how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed and the woman’s age at diagnosis. Nine out of ten women diagnosed with very early cancer (where the disease has not spread beyond the ovaries) will be alive in five years' time. This disease can be beaten with better promotion of symptoms so that women and medical professionals take early action when needed.
Sadly, the late diagnosis of ovarian cancer can often lead to litigation with GPs continuing to miss key signs and symptoms. Naomi Holland, associate at Penningtons Manches LLP, commented: “We fully support any initiative to raise awareness of ovarian cancer in the hope that women will take control and act upon any of the four symptoms. The lack of awareness must change otherwise women will continue to die unnecessarily of a condition that can be easily treated if caught early enough.”