Three out of four women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in this country will have advanced disease at presentation yet ovarian cancer is fully curable if it is detected early.
There have been several campaigns to raise awareness of ovarian cancer. Most of these have focused on making women aware of symptoms but the reality is that by the time a woman develops symptoms she probably has disease that has spread beyond the ovary. In addition, the symptoms such as abdominal swelling and discomfort, change in bowel habit and needing to pee frequently, are vague and often mimic benign conditions such as diverticular disease or irritable bowel syndrome. As the average GP sees one patient with ovarian cancer every five years, he/she may be unlikely to consider this diagnosis, even in women with a classic combination of symptoms.
An important International trial looking at four major cancers showed that ovarian cancer survival in the UK lags significantly behind other developed countries.
This may be, in part, because the health system here is reactive rather than pro-active. We wait for women to present with symptoms and do not have a culture of health checks.
This is in sharp contrast with continental Europe where most women have an annual gynaecology check as a matter of course. This means that problems with the ovaries are likely to be detected early.
There is hope for women in the UK however. The results from the UKCTOCS trial, a trial looking at screening for ovarian cancer, suggests that there might be merit in monitoring serum Ca125, a substance present in the blood that is typically produced by ovarian cancer cells. There are other studies, including one supported by the Eve Appeal cancer Charity, that seek to detect ovarian cancer at an even earlier stage by focusing on risk prediction and early detection. My hope and expectation is that there will come a time when women are diagnosed before they develop symptoms and when they have the best chance of cure.
While we wait for these innovations to become a reality – what can women do to protect themselves?
If you have a family history of breast, bowel or ovarian cancer, you might have an inherited predisposition and be eligible for screening.
If you have symptoms that may be suggestive of ovarian cancer such as;
o Abdominal swelling
o Abdominal discomfort
o Loss of appetite
o Needing to pee frequently
o Change in bowel habit
Tell your GP your fears so appropriate diagnostic tests can be arranged. Most people with these symptoms will NOT have ovarian cancer but it is important not to ignore these symptoms.
The sooner the cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.
Ladies, be health aware. Do not die of ignorance