Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the UK, with around 7,500 new cases each year. It is also the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths in women, with around 4,200 deaths each year; however, survival rates are improving and have almost doubled in the last four decades. It’s time to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Those most at risk of cervical cancer are women aged 70 and above, due to cell DNA damage that accumulates over the years. Other risk factors include having a mother or sister who has had ovarian cancer; inheriting conditions such as BRCA1/2 mutations or Peutz-Jeghers syndrome; suffering with endometriosis or diabetes; and being obese.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late as its symptoms can be confused with those of other conditions.
Understandably, many people live busy lives and may not have the time or inclination to undergo many different investigations with their doctor, especially if symptoms are not causing them pain. In addition, symptoms may be dismissed as non-serious, which further prolongs diagnosis. That being said, it is important to know your body, and seek specialist help, if necessary, if you feel that something is wrong.
How to become more familiar with your body
Becoming more familiar with what your body looks like and how it feels day-to-day is extremely important in helping you understand when something is wrong. Every day, take some time to be aware and present when it comes to your body with these tips:
- Examine your body in front of a mirror – remove your clothes and examine your skin, take note of any moles, lesions and rashes. Look at the shape of your body and if there are any lumps, bloating or fluid build-up. If you can, study your genitals and note any changes that may happen.
- Feel for lumps and bumps – this is particularly important for your breasts and groin area. Check these areas daily after a warm shower or bath, using firm pressure to check around your chest, nipples, armpits, abdomen, thighs and groin.
- Keep an eye on your menstrual cycle – use a notebook or an app to record any physical symptoms relating to your period, such as the length of your bleeding time and if you have any spotting, cramps, pain when going to the toilet, or if your blood or discharge has an unusual smell.
- Track your toilet habits – make a note of how often you are going to the toilet, and be aware of any changes in frequency, or if there is any related pain or discomfort.
By being aware of how our bodies function on a daily basis, and record any issues where possible, we can help to prevent prolonged diagnosis of serious conditions such as ovarian cancer.
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer
The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are often mistaken with those of other gynaecological cancers, or other conditions entirely. If you are experiencing these symptoms and they persist, make a note of them and relay this to your doctor.
Common Symptoms Include:
- Pelvic discomfort
- Needing to pee urgently or more often
- Abnormal menstruation or bleeding
Dr Albert Aka, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre, explains, “ovarian cancer is relatively uncommon, and it is likely that these symptoms point to another condition. However, in order to ensure an early diagnosis, you should visit your gynaecologist if they are persistent, especially if you are in an at-risk group.”
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Ovarian cyst
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
5 surprising symptoms of ovarian cancer
In some cases, more unusual symptoms of ovarian cancer can occur. Again, these symptoms can be confused with those of other conditions, but it’s important to be vigilant if they occur, especially in relation to other symptoms listed.
1. Excessive Tiredness
Excessive tiredness may not be the first symptom you think of in regards to ovarian cancer, but it affects many people with the condition. Excessive tiredness refers to feeling unusually tired when you wake up in the morning, as well as throughout the day. You may find yourself napping often, and fighting off the feeling of tiredness during everyday tasks which you were once able to carry out without hindrance.
2. Stomach Or Lower Back Pain
A small amount of pain in your abdomen or lower back on a one-off occasion could be due a minor condition such as a strained muscle. However, prolonged or excessive pain in one or both of these areas could signify something more serious. Some women describe the pain as a persistent dull ache, while others experience more severe pain akin to labour.
3. Leg Pain
Pain in your abdomen or lower back can spread to your legs, and sometimes it can feel like your legs are the source of the pain.
4. Losing Your Appetite
There are a number of reasons why ovarian cancer can cause appetite loss. For example, if a tumour on the ovaries is pushing into other organs, such as the gastrointestinal tract, it may make you feel nauseous, uncomfortable or like you are already full. In addition, a tumour may release hormones which impact your appetite. Other side effects of ovarian cancer which affect appetite include stress and tiredness.
5. Weight Loss
Someone experiencing appetite loss is likely to lose weight as a consequence. However, those with ovarian cancer may also experience diarrhea or vomiting as a result of nausea, which can also result in weight loss.
What to do if you have symptoms
If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed in this article, or any symptoms relating to gynaecological cancers that you feel are abnormal, there is no harm in booking an appointment with your doctor to run some investigations. Tests for ovarian cancer include a blood test to check for a substance called CA125, an ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan, biopsy or laparoscopy.
From there, your doctor will interpret your test result to find your diagnosis, and a treatment plan, if necessary, will be created to address your condition.
Our Well Woman check is ideal for investigating female health and symptoms of gynaecological cancers, but if you have any specific concerns, our expert gynaecologists are just a phone call away. If you would like to book an appointment, click here.