Ovarian cancer is estimated to affect more than 7,000 women in the UK each year, with eight out of ten cases occurring in women over the age of 50. As the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be mistaken for those of other conditions, it often goes unnoticed in the early stages. Here's what to look out for:
Signs and symptoms
Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating, pressure and pain in the pelvic region, and difficulty eating and feeling full quickly or feeling nauseous, are the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Because these symptoms can be associated with less serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome of pre-menstrual syndrome, they are often dismissed by sufferers (and sometimes misdiagnosed by GPs) in the early stages of cancer. Speak to your doctor and ask for a second opinion if you're concerned.
Other symptoms to watch for include needing to urinate more frequently or urgently, back pain, changes in your bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea), irregular bleeding and prolonged feelings of fatigue.
The charity Ovarian Cancer Action advises keeping a symptom diary, keeping a note of how many of the symptoms you have and for how long.
If two or more relatives from the same side of your family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50 years, or there have been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer yourself. This is because you might have inherited a faulty gene known as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation that creates a greater chance, 35-60%, of developing ovarian cancer.
Aside from your age and family history, there are several other factors which can increase your risk, including being obese, smoking, having endometriosis and using oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy. Women who go through the menopause after 55, don't have children, or had children after the age of 30, or who didn't breast feed, are also at a slightly increased risk of developing the disease.
Three products related to ovarian cancer:
Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer, £4.84
Ovarian Cancer Awareness ribbon enamel badge, £3.99
Cancer Research women's blue t-shirt, £7.50