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Cancer of the ovary affects around 7,000 women a year in the UK. Knowing the signs could help you seek advice early, when treatment is more likely to be effective. Here are the key messages.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women but the average GP sees only one case of ovarian cancer every five years. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, particularly after the menopause.
Cervical screening tests (sometimes known as smear tests) do not help to detect ovarian cancer.
If ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage the outcome is good. However, because some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those of more common conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose.
Most women are not diagnosed until the disease has spread. It's important to know about the symptoms, so that advice can be sought as early as possible.
Signs to look out for
Ovarian cancer was once known as a ‘silent’ disease, because its symptoms can be vague. Evidence now shows that any of the following three symptoms, if they occur on most days may suggest ovarian cancer.
(Some of the UK’s leading cancer charities, scientists and doctors agree that these symptoms are more frequent in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.)
Occasionally women may also experience other symptoms such as urinary symptoms, changes in bowel habit, extreme fatigue or back pain on their own or at the same time as those listed above. It's likely that these symptoms are not ovarian cancer, but may be present in some women with the disease.
If you regularly experience any of these symptoms, which are not normal for you, it's important to see your GP. It's unlikely that your symptoms are caused by a serious problem, but it's important to be checked.
You should also tell the GP if there are two or more cases of ovarian or breast cancer in your close family, as ovarian cancer can sometimes run in families.
If you have already visited your GP and the symptoms continue or get worse, it is important to go back to your GP and explain this. You know your body better than anyone.
Remember, ovarian cancer is not common and early diagnosis may save lives.
For more information on ovarian cancer, see Useful links. The information here has been produced in conjunction with:
British Gynaecological Cancer Society
Cancer Research UK
Department of Health
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust
The Eve Appeal
Kent and Medway Cancer Network
National Forum of Gynaecological Oncology Nurses
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
Royal College of General Practitioners
Ovarian Cancer Action
Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Target Ovarian Cancer
University College London Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women's Health.
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