Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovary begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, forming a tumour.
It is one of the most common types of cancer in women - but do you know the disease’s signs and symptoms?
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
According to the NHS, common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- feeling constantly bloated
- a swollen tummy
- discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
- feeling full quickly when eating
- needing to pee more often than normal
However, the NHS notes that “the symptoms aren't always easy to recognise because they're similar to those of some more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”
When should I see my GP?
You should see your GP if:
- you've been feeling bloated most days for the last three weeks
- you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that won't go away
- you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it
What will my GP do?
Your GP may:
- ask about your symptoms and general health
- gently feel your tummy to check for any swelling or lumps
- carry out an internal examination
- ask if there's a history of ovarian or breast cancer in your family
- take a sample of blood – this will be sent to a laboratory and checked for a substance called CA125
The NHS adds, “In some cases, you may be referred straight to a hospital specialist (usually a gynaecologist) for further tests without having a blood test.”
Causes of ovarian cancer
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but the NHS notes that some things may increase a woman's risk of getting it, such as:
- being over 50 years of age
- a family history of ovarian or breast cancer – this could mean you've inherited genes that increase your cancer risk
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – although any increase in cancer risk is likely to be very small
- endometriosis – a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb
- being overweight
“Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women,” says the NHS.
The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on factors such as how far the cancer has spread and your general health.
The main treatments for ovarian cancer are:
- surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible – this will often involve removing both ovaries, the womb and the tubes connecting them to each other (fallopian tubes)
- chemotherapy – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer