Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – spot the signs of the "silent killer"

Posted: 09/03/2016


Penningtons Manches LLP is supporting Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month’s campaign to increase understanding of the signs and symptoms of the fifth most common cancer among women in the UK. 

Often referred to as the “silent killer”, ovarian cancer is notoriously hard to diagnose in the early stages. This is because it grows deep in the pelvis and symptoms are often only experienced once the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The key to improving treatment of the disease is a greater understanding of the symptoms and to encourage women to seek medical advice as early as possible. 

Ovarian cancer has hit the headlines recently because of the concern raised over the link between talcum powder and an increase in the risk of the disease, following a case in America where the court awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer. A new study suggests that those who apply talc to their genitals have a 33% higher risk of ovarian cancer. The concern is that, with repeated use, the talc can get into the vagina and the upper genital tract. However, people should be aware that the majority of the damages awarded in this case were punitive damages which cannot be awarded in clinical negligence claims in England and Wales. 

The symptoms of ovarian cancer

It can be difficult to recognise the symptoms of ovarian cancer as they are often similar to less serious conditions such as IBS or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). This in turn can lead to misdiagnosis and a delay in treatment. To help medical practitioners assess when women should be investigated for ovarian cancer, NICE has issued guidance recommending that a woman should visit her GP to be checked for ovarian cancer if she has any of the following symptoms which last for a month or more, or occur on at least 12 days in a month:

  • bloating
  • feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen and/or back
  • a need to pass urine more frequently and/or more urgently
  • post-menopausal bleeding
  • unexplained weight loss
  • extreme fatigue
  • a change in bowel habits. 

The guidance also states that any woman over the age of 50 suffering with symptoms similar to IBS should be offered a test for ovarian cancer by her GP, as the likelihood of a woman developing IBS at this age if she had not done so previously, is low. 

Risk factors

Women of all ages can get ovarian cancer but it is more common in women over 50. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, a history of endometriosis, not having children and a family history of cancer. 

Diagnosing ovarian cancer

A blood test can be taken to measure the level of cancer-indicating protein, CA125. Higher levels of the protein can indicate ovarian cancer but patients should be aware that certain conditions such as arthritis can give incorrect positive results. Another option for diagnosis is to perform a transabdominal ultrasound to view the ovaries. 

There is not currently a routine screening for ovarian cancer such as smear tests for cervical cancer, but a screening test is being trialled which involves a blood test to measure the change in a woman's CA125 levels over time.  

Unfortunately, there are occasions when medical professionals fail to spot the signs of cancer which leads to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. 

Emma Beeson, associate in the clinical negligence team, says: “We act for a number of clients whose cancer diagnosis was delayed despite having symptoms for some time. A case we are currently investigating involves a failure to diagnose our client's ovarian cancer sooner and to monitor her CA125 levels, despite continued unexplained abdominal pain and bloating. 

“It is hoped that raising awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the methods used to test for it, such as CA125 monitoring through blood tests, will give greater power to women to demand investigation and treatment if they have concerns over the symptoms they are experiencing.”  

If you, your family or a friend have any concerns about the medical treatment you have received for ovarian cancer or any other type of cancer, please contact us free for an initial chat on 0800 328 9545. Click here for more information about ovarian cancer.


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