Know what’s normal for your body, be symptom aware, visit your GP to get checked and be persistent if you still don’t feel right – that’s the simple message from the local NHS that could save women’s lives.
As part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s specialist gynaecology cancer nurses want every woman to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and go to their GP to get checked if they’re worried.
Ovarian cancer affects 7,000 women a year in the UK and is the biggest gynaecological killer of women in the country. Locally, about 250 women a year are referred to Bradford Royal Infirmary with suspected ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately the cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage some of its symptoms are similar to those seen in more common conditions, like IBS, so GPs may find it harder to diagnose.
And Macmillan cancer nurse specialists, Jess Hall and Cheryl Downes, who are based at Bradford Royal Infirmary’s Women’s Unit, say that many women, of all ages, put their vague symptoms down to other things and often only go to their GP as a last resort.
But, if caught early enough and before the disease spreads, ovarian cancer is curable in 90 per cent of cases.
Jess said: “Ovarian cancer is referred to as a silent disease because most women do not experience symptoms until its later stages, or don’t want to bother their GP with vague symptoms.
“Our message to women if that you know your bodies and if something doesn’t feel right then see your GP. Please don’t feel like you’re wasting someone’s time – you’re in control of your own health so don’t ignore things, persist if you don’t feel right.”
Patients with suspected ovarian cancer have a cancer-specific blood test at their GP surgery and then are fast-tracked to the hospital where they have an ultrasound, followed by a CT scan and biopsy, if necessary.
Depending on the diagnosis, surgery can be carried out followed by chemotherapy. An ovarian cancer specialist consultant from Leeds Teaching Hospitals runs a satellite clinic at Bradford so women can receive the vast majority of their care here.
The Bradford team also now provides genetic testing for the BRCA gene mutation that can cause ovarian cancer, if a family link is suspected.
Cheryl explained: “While ovarian cancer found at a very advanced stage is not curable, it is treatable and we support women with the very best care to manage their symptoms.
“But the earlier ovarian cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat and the better chance of survival, so I would urge all women to be aware of the symptoms and contact your GP as soon as possible if you think something is wrong.”
Ovarian cancer symptoms
- Persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
- Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
- Pelvic or abdominal pain (that’s from your tummy to the top of your thighs)
- Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)
Occasionally there can be other symptoms:
- Changes in bowel habit (e.g. diarrhoea or constipation)
- Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Unplanned weight loss
- Any unusual bleeding from the vagina before or after the menopause should always be investigated by a GP.
Symptoms will be:
- New – they’re not normal for you
- Frequent – they usually happen more than 12 times a month
- Persistent – they don’t go away
If you are aged 50 or older and develop symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for the first time, you should also have tests. IBS can cause bloating and changes in bowel function. But it does not usually start after the age of 50.