Body & Fitness

What you need to know about ovarian cancer

ovarian cancer is not very common - less than two percent of women get it. But it's one of the deadliest, because it's hard to detect in the early stages and often, by the time it's found, it has spread. Being aware of early warning signs, and whether you have an increased risk, may help catch this disease before it's too late.

It’s known as the silent killer

That’s because there may not be any obvious symptoms until the cancer has become advanced. You may have noticed seemingly minor symptoms – like bloating – but ignored them because they could be due to other health issues.

Tight-fitting clothes could be cause for concern

If your jeans have become hard to do up, it may simply mean you’re putting on weight. But it could also mean your abdomen is bloated, and this is one of the signs of ovarian cancer.

Bloating can be due to a variety of reasons but if it’s caused by ovarian cancer it’s persistent and doesn’t come and go depending on what factors like what you’ve eaten.

Persistent pains need to be checked out

You should see your doctor if you have pelvic and abdominal pain most days. other signs of ovarian cancer include:

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Back pain

  • Needing to urinate more frequently, often urgently

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding

  • Painful sex

Feeling full is not always a good thing

Feeling full sooner than you normally would when eating may be a sign of ovarian cancer. If you’re not eating as much as usual and are shedding kilos without effort, this should be investigated.

By the time it’s picked up, ovarian cancer is often advanced

Around 70% of women diagnosed with this type of cancer have reached stage three by the time it’s found. Cancer is graded in stages from one to four, with stage four the most advanced. If it’s caught early, ovarian cancer can be cured in around 90% of cases.

Most cases of ovarian cancer occur for no obvious reason

Doctors don’t know why some women get ovarian cancer, while others don’t. However, because it seems to affect mostly women in wealthier, industrialised countries, there are theories that diet and lifestyle may play a part. Also, more than 50% of cases are diagnosed in women over 65 years of age.

Family history can make a difference

In around five to 10% of women who develop it, there’s a family history. If your mother or sister had it, your risk triples. The younger they were when they were diagnosed, the higher your risk. Your risk also increases if you or close family members have had breast or colon cancer.

How many periods you’ve had also plays a part

It seems that the more periods you’ve had in your life, the more likely you are to develop ovarian cancer. That may be because the more active your ovaries have been releasing eggs (ovulating), the greater the chance that cells have gone haywire and become cancerous.So, if you started your periods early, went through menopause late, haven’t used a form of birth control that stops ovulation or haven’t had children, your risk goes up.

on the other hand, women who’ve had at least two children and have been on the pill for five or more years may reduce their chances of developing ovarian cancer by 70%. Having a hysterectomy, or getting your fallopian tubes tied, lowers your risk.

Infertility may be a factor

According to some research, there may be a link between ovarian cancer and infertility, possibly because women with no children have ovulated more. Meanwhile, other studies suggest using fertility drugs which stimulate the ovaries can slightly increase your chances of getting ovarian cancer, especially if you didn’t get pregnant.

Woman without any risk factors can still get ovarian cancer

But it’s still worth knowing the risk factors so that if you have any, you can have regular gynaecological checks that may find the disease at an early stage.

There is no screening for ovarian cancer

There are no reliable tests that can detect ovarian cancer, so there’s no screening programme. It’s up to women to know their risk and be aware of bodily changes. If you have some of the risk factors and are aged over 40, then it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about having regular gynaecological check-ups.

Related stories

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.