Imagine seeing a random post on Facebook, even this blog post right now, it’s about a certain illness, and you have matched up every symptom to your own. A simple repost of a repost that you find on your friend’s account. You immediately worry, and have countless question circling your mind: ‘what if I’m overreacting?’, ‘it might just be another disease; it’s probably not that serious’. Just to be sure, you contact your doctor and get tested. ‘You have clear cell carcinoma’. What does that mean? ‘You have a type of ovarian cancer’.
This is the story of Laura₁.
You see, one of worst things about ovarian cancer is how hard it is to diagnose. There is no screening for ovarian cancer. So as Laura stated: ‘it is vitally important women are aware of the symptoms’. Therefore, today, May 8th 2018, World Ovarian Cancer Day, I am writing to let all of you know about ovarian cancer.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are crucial to know about as a woman, so if you are going to skim through this blog, a message from me to you is that this section is the most important section.
The main symptoms of ovarian cancer are the same as less serious conditions such PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and IBS (irritable bowel symptoms). This makes it very hard to recognize ovarian cancer, especially during its early stages₂. The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer include₃:
- persistent stomach pain
- persistent bloating
- difficulty eating – loss of appetite
- needing to urinate more frequently
Occasionally, there can be even more symptoms such as₂:
- persistent indigestion or nausea
- pain during sex
- a change in your bowel habits
- back pain
- vaginal bleeding – particularly bleeding after the menopause (if this occurs, contact your GP)
- feeling tired all the time
- unintentional weight loss
Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have been through menopause and can also be caused by genetics, endometriosis and hormone replacement therapy. However, it can also affect younger women due to obesity, smoking or using talcum between your legs (which I do when wearing shorts to prevent thigh rash – I didn’t know it could cause this, learn something new every day!) ₂. The right time to go to a GP is you have been feeling the symptoms for three weeks, or if you notice a change that isn’t normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of cancer – it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure because if you are having symptoms, it can also be linked to other things (such as IBS and PMS as mentioned earlier)₄.
As mentioned earlier, there are no screenings for ovarian cancer, however, a series of tests can be carried out.
When visiting your GP, the GP may₅:
- ask about your symptoms and general health
- feel your abdominal region for any swelling or lumps
- carry out an internal examination (where the doctor inserts one or two gloved fingers into your vagina simultaneously pressing down on your tummy (abdomen) with their other hand for any lumps₄)
- ask if there’s a history of ovarian or breast cancer in your family
- refer you to phlebotomy for a blood test – this will be sent to a laboratory and checked for a substance called CA125 – a substance produced by ovarian cancer cells.
- refer you to a specialist for a CT scan or transvaginal screening (putting an ultrasound probe into the vagina in order to get a better picture of the ovaries than an ultrasound over the abdomen₄).
Whilst these tests exist, they can only suggest ovarian cancer but not be sure – for instance, CA125 is also produced during pregnancy and if you have endometriosis or fibroids₅, as well as this, the transvaginal probe can give a clearer picture but it is still hard to tell if there is a cancer on the ovary or a cyst (PCOS). At the moment, there is still research taking place for ovarian cancer screening by a large study called UKCTOCS₄.
Treatment for ovarian cancer is usually a combination of both chemotherapy and surgery. The surgery can involve removing both the ovaries and fallopian tubes, a hysterectomy (removal of the womb), and the removal of the omentum (a layer of fatty tissue in the tummy). This can then be followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill any of the remaining cancer cells, or even before surgery to shrink the cells for easier removal. IN worst case scenario, chemotherapy is used if the cancer returns after treatment.
Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. If you have made it this far, you might now know more than what you did before about ovarian cancer, and understand why it is so important to know its symptoms. Laura said in her article that she was so grateful for the Facebook post,
‘Without that it could have been another two or three months before I got diagnosed. It might have been too late then. It can be so aggressive and it can spread so quickly that I think I was so lucky to catch it when I did.’
You never know, you could save a life today too. Simply by sharing this, or telling your friends about it, spread awareness about ovarian cancer!
By Antonia Marie Jayme