The ovarian cancer symptoms you need to know about

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Here are all the facts and risks about this dangerous 'silent killer'...

Cancer of the ovary affects approximately 5,500 women in England each year and is often referred to as the 'silent killer' because the symptoms can be very hard to detect.

There are three types of ovarian cancer, these include;

Epithelial ovarian cancer, which affects the surface layers of the ovary.
Germ cell ovarian cancer, which originates in the cells that make the eggs.
Stromal ovarian cancer, which develops within the cells that hold the ovaries together.

The most common type of ovarian cancer is epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer of the ovary can also spread to other parts of the reproductive system and surrounding areas such as the womb, vagina and abdomen.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very difficult to recognise, especially in the early stages. In fact, the symptoms can be so vague that it used to be believed that ovarian cancer had no symptoms at all. Today, doctors are far more aware of the danger signs but it is the women suffering from ovarian cancer who need to be able to spot the symptoms and seek medical help before the cancer develops.

Early symptoms can include:
• Pain in the pelvis, lower stomach or side
• A full, bloated feeling and the need to pass urine more frequently

Later symptoms can include...
• Swelling in the stomach
• Pain during sex
• Constipation and irregular periods.

Advanced symptoms can include...
• Nausea
• Breathlessness
• Weight loss
• Loss of appetite
• Tiredness.

Who's at risk of ovarian cancer?

The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age with women over the age of 65 most at risk.

One of our readers, Claire, 28, was just 21 when she found out that she had ovarian cancer; "I looked like I was six months pregnant and went to see my GP who confirmed I wasn't pregnant but it seemed like I had some sort of growth inside me and he thought it was an ovarian cyst. He referred me to a gynaecologist who did some further testing and he also thought I had a cyst - luckily I had private healthcare with work so I got into hospital very quickly and was seen within two weeks to have the lump removed.

"After the operation the surgeon told me that he had removed a 2kg tumour that was attached to my ovary along with the ovary itself but that my other ovary looked fine. I had further tests and they came back and confirmed that I had ovarian cancer. I couldn't believe it I was in shock as I was only 21 with no cancer history in my family.

"The main thing is that I escaped chemo and I am just left with a big scar. I am now fit and well but have to keep going back for check-ups on my other ovary as I may have to have that removed as well but I really hope to start a family soon." Since her operation, Claire has had a baby and is still happy and healthy. "

What causes ovarian cancer?

Cancer is caused by the cells dividing and multiplying too rapidly but it is not fully understood why this happens.

If any of your close relatives have had cancer of any kind, you are more at risk from developing ovarian cancer and especially so if a close relative such as your mother or sister have had ovarian cancer. If this is the case you could be eligible to be screened for ovarian cancer.

Being overweight or obese is also known to increase your risk of developing cancer by as much as a third, find our if you are overweight by checking your BMI with our BMI calculator. If you suffer from endometriosis, this can also increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer by up to a third.

Is ovarian cancer treatable?

Like other forms of cancer, treatment is carried out through a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and, in some cases, radiotherapy. If the cancer is caught at stage one, there is a 90% survival rate.

However at the moment, most women are being diagnosed between stage two and three where there is only a 25% (stage three) or 65% (stage two) chance of survival.

Nearly all cases of ovarian cancer require surgery in order to remove as much of the cancer as possible. After surgery, the patient will undergo chemotherapy which uses medicines that stop the growth of any cancer cells that could not be removed using surgery.

If there are still small traces of cancer left in your reproductive system after chemotherapy or, if you have an advanced form of ovarian cancer then radiotherapy will be used to target the remaining cancer cells.

How can I prevent getting this type of cancer?

We are constantly hearing about the different things which can cause or help prevent cancer but, because so little is known about the cause of ovarian cancer it is not known if there is anything that can prevent it altogether.

Factors which may make the chances of developing ovarian cancer less likely include being on the contraceptive pill and eating a diet that is low in fat and high in fruit and vegetables.

For more information about ovarian cancer visit

Have you experienced ovarian cancer?



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