Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women in the UK. It usually effects women that have reached their menopause. About 90% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 45; however, it can occur in younger women. The causes of ovarian cancer are not yet completely understood. As many other cancers, the main risk factors for ovarian cancer are
age (being over 50), strong family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, obesity, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and infertility/fertility treatments. However factors such as having children, using the contraceptive pill and breast feeding reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Most women with early stage cancer of the ovary don’t have any symptoms for a long time. This is because symptoms can be very vague or may not occur until the cancer is at a later stage. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Vague indigestion, nausea and a bloated feeling
- Unexplained weight gain
- Swelling of the abdomen - due to the build up of fluid known as ascites, which can cause shortness of breath
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits - constipation, diarrhoea,passing urine more often
- Lower back pain
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (rare)
Diagnosis will include and internal vaginal examination to check for lumps and swelling, blood tests and an ultrasound scan. The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. The treatment given is dependent on the stage of the cancer, age and general health.