Symptoms of ovarian cancer
The ovaries are a pair of small organs located low in the tummy that are connected to the womb and store a woman's supply of eggs.
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
- unexplained tiredness
- unexplained change in bowel habit – similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in a woman older than 50
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
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 to see your GP
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
It's unlikely you have cancer, but it's best to check. Your GP can do some simple tests to see if you might have it.
If you've already seen your GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this.
If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, your GP may refer you to a genetics specialist to discuss the option of genetic testing to check your ovarian cancer risk.
Causes of ovarian cancer
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown.
But some things may increase a woman's risk of getting it, such as:
- being over 50 years of age – around 80 per cent of ovarian cancer occurs in women over the age of 50 in Northern Ireland
- 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
Treatment for ovarian cancer
The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on things such as how far the cancer has spread and your general health.
The main treatments 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 (where medicine is used to kill cancer cells) – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer
Treatment will aim to cure the cancer whenever possible. If the cancer has spread too far to be cured, the aim is to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.
Outlook for ovarian cancer
The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure. But often it's not recognised until it has already spread and a cure isn't possible.
Even after successful treatment, there's a high chance the cancer will come back within the next few years.
If it does come back, it can't usually be cured. But chemotherapy may help reduce the symptoms and keep the cancer under control for several months or years.
Overall, around half of women with ovarian cancer will live for at least five years after diagnosis.
Living with ovarian cancer
Dealing with cancer can be a huge challenge for you and your friends and family, both in a practical sense and emotionally.
Talking to someone about your feelings or problems can help, see more useful links below.
It may help to:
- talk to your care team or GP – they may be able to arrange professional support such as counselling or therapy
- speak to your friends and family – be open about how you feel and what they can do to help; don't feel shy about telling them you need some time to yourself if that's what you want
- get in touch with a support group or charity – many organisations have helplines, online forums, and local support groups where you can meet up with other people in a similar situation to you