What You Need To Know About Ovarian Cancer
It’s Dubbed The ‘Silent Killer’
One of the main problems in detecting ovarian cancer is that many of the symptoms aren’t particularly abnormal for women – think bloating, stomach pain or needing to go to the loo more often. “The main symptoms of ovarian cancer often mimic many non-cancerous conditions, such as IBS or the menopause,” says Chloe Cruickshank, specialist cancer nurse at Perci Health. “The acronym ‘BEAT’ can be helpful – B is for bloating that does not come and go, it is constant; E is for eating difficulties and feeling full quicker than usual; A is for abdominal pain and pelvic pain which is present most days; and T is for toilet changes in bowel and urination habits. Evidence shows women with ovarian cancer usually experience and report these symptoms to their GP,” she says. Pharmacist Abbas Kanani adds that back pain, indigestion, bleeding after menopause, feeling chronically fatigued and frequent constipation or diarrhoea are also symptoms.
It’s Not To Be Confused With Cervical Cancer
According to a recent study, 22% of women think a smear test checks for ovarian cancer, but this is not true, adds Chloe. “The smear test is not a catch-all gynaecological test,” she tells us. “Ovarian cancer and cervical cancer do share two symptoms – pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding – but the root cause is different. Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV), while ovarian cancer has no association with this. The incidence of HPV has led to national vaccination and screening programmes globally in a bid to reduce new cases. This has made cervical cancer less common than ovarian cancer.”
Ovarian Cancer Screening Doesn’t Exist
“This is largely due to there being a lack of one specific, reliable test that accurately detects ovarian cancer at an early stage,” Chloe continues. “While pelvic ultrasound and a specific blood test that detect a protein called CA125 can be performed, a recent study found that carrying these out annually did not equate to fewer deaths from ovarian cancer. It is also worth noting that a CA125 can be elevated for a multitude of different reasons including pregnancy, day in menstruation cycle and a variety of different types of infection, not just cancer. This demonstrates the imminent need for further studies to establish specific and accurate tests to detect early ovarian cancer.”
Women Over 50 Are More At Risk
“Ovarian cancer can occur at any age,” says Chloe. “While it’s rare for it to develop in women under the age of 45, the risk increases significantly after this time and is greatest in those aged between 75 and 79.” Genetics also play a part. Five to 15% of cases involve a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene – the same genes that are implicated in breast cancer, and using HRT puts you at a small increased risk, depending on the type you’re on. “Like most cancers, there is also an increased risk in developing ovarian cancer if you smoke and, the longer you’ve smoked, the greater the risk,” says Chloe. Ashfaq Khan, Harley Street consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, adds that having endometriosis or diabetes are also risk factors. “If you started your periods at a younger age or went through the menopause late (over 55), or have not had a baby, your risk is greater. These factors may simply mean you’ve ovulated more in your life. If you’ve never used hormonal contraception, such as the pill or an implant, your risk is also higher,” he explains.
Your GP Should Be Your First Port Of Call
If you notice any of the symptoms, book to see your GP. “In the first instance, you’ll be asked about your and your immediate family’s health history. Once this has been established, an internal examination with a GP or nurse will be recommended,” explains Abbas. If your GP is concerned, you’ll also be referred for a CA125 blood test. “However, a blood test that shows an elevated result could be a sign of a number of things. Having a raised level of CA125 is not a diagnosis, but it should warrant further investigation,” says Abbas. “This will usually be in the form of an ultrasound scan.” Early diagnosis is key – there’s a 93% survival rate if ovarian cancer is discovered at Stage 1.
There Are Three Types
If you receive a diagnosis, it is likely it will already be at an advanced stage, continues Ashfaq. “This is because ovarian cancer progresses through the early stages of changes quite rapidly without obvious symptoms. In fact, symptoms are often vague, which can be misleading.” There are three types of ovarian cancer, the most common being epithelial ovarian cancer. “This makes up around 90% of cases,” says Chloe. “It arises from cells that cover and line the ovaries. Sex-cord stromal ovarian tumours, which account for 5% of all ovarian cancers, are made up of the cells that produce hormones, while germ cell ovarian cancer develops from the cells that produce eggs and are more common in younger women. These make up around 3% of all ovarian cancer.”
Most Women Will Require Surgery
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually includes a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, the order of which is determined by your doctors to maximise the best possible outcome for you, says Chloe. “Surgery is often required to remove as much of the disease as possible and may include a hysterectomy as well as removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes,” she tells us. Biopsies may also be taken from your abdomen and pelvis to give an accurate picture of the stage of the cancer and if you need further treatment. “If the cancer has spread to parts of your pelvis or abdomen, your surgeon will remove as much of the cancer as safely possible. The less cancer left in the body after surgery, the more likely chemotherapy is to work,” says Ashfaq.
Research Continues To Develop
When it comes to the future of ovarian cancer, trials are under way to investigate whether a vaccine can kill cancer cells, and thereby slow the growth of the cancer if it comes back, Chloe tells us. “Earlier detection is linked to increased survival rates and better outcomes, so further trials and research is imperative to diagnose ovarian cancer much earlier.” If you are in any doubt or are worried about any symptoms, always speak to your GP.
For more information visit ChemistClick.co.uk, HarleyStreetGynaecology.com and PerciHealth.com.
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