It is important to detect ovarian cancer early because, like any cancer, the treatment can be more effective at an early stage. There are two types of ovarian cancer, Epithelial, which starts in the tissue around the ovary and is the most common. The second type is rarer and is called germ cell tumours, starting within the cells that produce eggs.
There are some factors that can increase the risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer they are as follows:
Family genes or history of ovarian, breast, uterus, urinary or bowel cancer
Increased risk at an older age
Starting menstruation at a young age
Intake of HRT may increase the risk a little
Infertility may also be related to a higher risk
There are also some factors that can decrease the risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer they are as follows:
Having children and breastfeeding
Use of contraceptive pill – benefits last even after stopping taking it
Being sterilised or having a hysterectomy
What symptoms you should be alert to?
The early symptoms can be mistaken for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and for this reason are often ignored, they include pain in the lower abdomen or sideways and bloated feeling. Later symptoms consist of abdominal and back pain, a lump in the abdomen or constantly swollen belly, constipation or digestive problems, passing urine very frequently, pain during sexual intercourse, unusual vaginal bleeding or irregular periods outside the normal cycle, substantial unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.
How can ovarian cancer be diagnosed?
It is necessary to undertake some clinical examination, including a blood test to identify the tumour marker CA 125, which is a protein found at higher levels in ovarian cancer cells than in normal cells. Other examinations include ultrasound scan, CT scan (Computed Tomography) or MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). It may be necessary to undertake a medical procedure such as biopsy or surgery in order to obtain tissue or cells sample to be examined so as to obtain a diagnosis.
What are the types of treatment available?
The treatment will depend on the type and stage of cancer, indicating how much it has spread. Almost all women with ovarian cancer will need some type of surgery, which can involve removal of one or both fallopian tubes and/or ovaries, womb and/or omentum (the layer of fat tissue over the bowel) followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy in most cases. The amount of surgery needed will depend on the stage and type of cancer. If you have any concerns contact your local GP.