Although figures and statistics do vary slightly from country to country, here are some average ones…
- Ovarian cancer is the eighth most commonly occurring cancer in women with almost 300,000 new cases worldwide every year.
- Although it changes slightly from country to country, a woman has about a one in 50 chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her lifetime
- If caught early enough there is a very high chance of survival, however most women aren’t diagnosed until the later stages
- Just over half of people diagnosed with ovarian cancer currently die from the disease
- Less than a third of women are confident they know what the symptoms are.
- Just one in five women (20 per cent) can name bloating as one of the main symptoms of ovarian cancer
- One in five women (22 per cent) mistakenly think a smear test would detect ovarian cancer
- There is no screening for ovarian cancer
These are the reasons why it is so important to arm yourself with the facts and help educate others
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are persistent and frequent, you will usually be experiencing symptoms more than 12 times a month.
- Persistent bloating - not bloating that comes and goes- increased tummy size
- Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
- Pelvic or abdominal pain (that's your tummy and below)
- Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)
- Indigestion - gas, nausea, or other gastro-intestinal issues, like heartburn
Occasionally there can be other symptoms:
- Changes in bowel habit (e.g. diarrhoea or constipation)
- Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lower back pain
- Menstrual Irregularities / Vaginal bleeding
- Shortness of Breath
- Dermatomyositis - a rare inflammatory disease
If you are experiencing these symptoms in combination or on a regular basis, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Diagnosing ovarian cancer
Tests and procedures used to diagnose ovarian cancer include:
- Pelvic exam in order to feel (palpate) your pelvic organs as well as visual examination of your external genitalia, vagina and cervix
- Imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT scans of your abdomen and pelvis, may help determine the size, shape and structure of your ovaries
- Blood tests will include organ function tests that can help determine your overall health as well as testing for tumor markers that can indicate the presence of ovarian cancer. These tests can't tell your doctor whether you have cancer, but may give clues about your diagnosis and prognosis
- Surgery is sometimes necessary. This could involve either biopsy or removal of an ovary so it can be tested for signs of cancer.
If the tests confirm that you do have ovarian cancer, your doctor will use information from your tests and procedures to assign your cancer a stage. The stages of ovarian cancer are indicated using Roman numerals ranging from I to IV, with the lowest stage indicating that the cancer is confined to the ovaries. By stage IV, the cancer has spread to distant areas of the body.
Treating ovarian cancer
Patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer will usually be given a combination of surgery and chemotherapy treatments:
- For early stage cancer which hasn’t spread beyond the ovary, surgery may involve removing the affected ovary and its fallopian tube.
- If cancer is present in both your ovaries, but there are no signs of additional cancer, your surgeon may remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes, leaving your uterus intact.
- If your cancer is more extensive you may require surgery to remove both ovaries and the uterus.
- If your cancer is advanced, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible.
Factors that increase your risk of ovarian cancers
Researchers have listed several risk factors that might increase a woman's chance of developing ovarian cancer. These are …
- Getting older - The risk of developing ovarian cancer gets higher with age. Ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40. Most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. Half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older.
- Being overweight or obese - Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of developing many cancers and women with a body mass index [BMI] of 30 or more may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Obesity may also affect the overall survival of a woman with ovarian cancer.
- Having children later or never having a full-term pregnancy - Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after age 35 or who never carried a pregnancy to term have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
- Using fertility treatment - Fertility treatment with in vitro fertilization (IVF) seems to increase the risk of the type of ovarian tumors known as "borderline" or "low malignant potential". Other studies, however, have not shown an increased risk of invasive ovarian cancer with fertility drugs. If you are taking fertility drugs, you should discuss the potential risks with your doctor.
- Taking hormone therapy after menopause - Women using estrogens after menopause have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk seems to be higher in women taking estrogen alone (without progesterone) for at least 5 to 10 years. The increased risk is less certain for women taking both estrogen and progesterone.
- Having a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer - Ovarian cancer can run in families. Your ovarian cancer risk is increased if your mother, sister, or daughter has (or has had) ovarian cancer. The risk also gets higher the more relatives you have with ovarian cancer. Increased risk for ovarian cancer can also come from your father's side. Family history of some other types of cancer such as colorectal and breast cancer is linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. This is because these cancers can be caused by an inherited mutation (change) in certain genes that cause a family cancer syndrome that increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Having a family cancer syndrome - About 5 to 10% of ovarian cancers are a part of family cancer syndromes resulting from inherited changes (mutations) in certain genes.
- Having had breast cancer - If you have had breast cancer, you might also have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. There are several reasons for this. Some of the reproductive risk factors for ovarian cancer may also affect breast cancer risk. The risk of ovarian cancer after breast cancer is highest in those women with a family history of breast cancer. A strong family history of breast cancer may be caused by an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, which is linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Having a risk factor, or even many, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may not have any known risk factors.
If you’ve been affected by ovarian cancer, or any other type of cancer, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group where there are thousands of people offering support and advice.