Ovarian cancer: How to spot the signs and detect it early
Ovarian cancer is far too often diagnosed late due to its ‘silent’ symptoms. Vitality explores ways to help prevent and detect it early
Ovarian cancer impacts the small, oval-shaped glands that are located on either side of the uterus, and around 7,500 Brits are diagnosed with the disease every year.
Sadly, though, due to its typically vague symptoms, ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages, which makes knowing the signs and symptoms that much more important.
The good news is that ovarian cancer is 90% curable if detected early, according to the Robin Cancer Trust. So, if at any point you, or a loved one, notices a change in their body, it’s really important to book an appointment to see a doctor.
In this article, we explore who is most at risk of ovarian cancer, the signs and symptoms related to it and what you might expect as a course of treatment.
Who is at risk of ovarian cancer?
Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, but there are a number of factors that might contribute to a diagnosis.
Dr Kiran Johal, a Vitality Medical Adviser, explains that there are several factors as to why a person might develop ovarian cancer: “Some of them cannot be controlled, such as age, family history and genetic predisposition.”
The risk of ovarian cancer increases in people over the age of 45; though, the most at-risk age group are those between 75 and 79, with more than a quarter of new cases each year among those over 75 years old.
A smaller group of ovarian cancer patients (around 5-15%) are caused by inherited genes – known as BRCA genes – which can also increase the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis.
Naturally, therefore, people who have received a breast cancer diagnosis, particularly at a young age, or those that have received are at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Meanwhile, other diseases, such as endometriosis and diabetes, also increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Excessive body weight is linked to an ovarian cancer diagnosis as well.
There are things we can do to help prevent it, however. “Stopping smoking, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce your risk of developing the disease,” notes Dr Kiran.
At Vitality, we understand it can be hard to manage your long-term health, particularly your weight.
That’s why we have partnered with Second Nature, a one-to-one coaching app, which provides you with the tools you need to manage your weight over time.
Complete your online Health Review and see if you are eligible to take part in a personalised 12-week programme, as well as access to the app for 12 months for just £20.
Terms and conditions apply. Find out more by visiting Member Zone.
Knowing the signs and symptoms
When ovarian cancer first develops, it might not cause any noticeable signs and symptoms. Dr Kiran explains: “They tend to be rather vague and non-specific.”
But remember, it is you that knows your body, and if something doesn’t feel quite right speak to your doctor.
The most common symptoms Kiran says are:
- Lower abdominal pain, around your pelvic area
- Bloating of tummy
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Having a reduced appetite
- Needing to urinate more frequently or always feeling the need to
Should these symptoms be persistent and a change from normal, such as appear more often or severely, Dr Kiran says: “It’s super important to seek medical help as soon as possible […] especially if you’re aged over 50 and have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.”
It’s important to note that there are a few lesser common signs and symptoms to be aware of, including lower back pain, unexpected weight loss, bleeding after menopause or changes to your menstrual cycle, whether that’s irregular bleeding or heavier bleeding than normal.
What types of treatment are available?
According to the NHS, ovarian cancer treatment will depend on:
- The size and type of ovarian cancer
- Where it is
- If it has spread and, if so, where to
- Your general health
Chemotherapy and surgery are the main types of ovarian cancer treatment. Targeted medications and hormone therapies are other forms of treatment available.
But before you dive into any course of treatment it’s important for you to know that the specialist care team will look after you. They will explain and create the treatment plan that’s right for you, inform you of the benefits and possible side effects.
How it affects you can vary from person to person. So, should you experience “any symptoms or side effects that you’re worried about, talk to your specialist,” says the NHS. “You don’t need to wait for your next check-up.”
How can I support a loved one through ovarian cancer?
Supporting a loved one through cancer can be incredibly tough. Those with a cancer diagnosis can behave in a variety of ways that may be difficult to anticipate. Just remember to reach out to others for help and support.
If times are tough and you feel you are struggling with supporting a partner, friend or family member with cancer, always remember that you can speak to your GP.
If, meanwhile, you are a Vitality member with a qualifying Health plan, our Cancer Treatment Support Programme offers a holistic approach and access to dedicated cancer professionals, including psychologists, nurse specialists and more, to help you through your diagnosis.
Dr Kiran adds: “We have partnered with Alvie Health to optimise the health of our members with cancer so they’re as supported and fit as they can be throughout their treatment journey.”
Members of Vitality that have a health insurance plan can contact us straight away if they have a health concern and can be referred to our one-stop clinic. You won’t need to go through your GP first.
However, if you’re not insured with Vitality, please contact your GP as soon as possible and they can refer you to the NHS pathway should you require it.
Or if you are interested in taking out a plan with Vitality, visit vitality.co.uk for more details.
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