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Focus on ovarian cancer
Many people aren't aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, but knowing them is key to early diagnosis. "The symptoms of ovarian cancer are persistent pelvic and stomach pain, increased abdominal size, persistent bloating that comes and goes, and difficulty eating and feeling full quickly," says Tania Pearson at Ovarian Cancer Action. "Occasionally other symptoms such as urinary problems, changes in bowel habit, extreme fatigue or back pain may also be experienced on their own or at the same time as those listed above. If a woman experiences any symptoms that are unusual, she should ask her GP to investigate."
The location of the ovaries means that symptoms are often related to the menstrual cycle. "Because the ovaries are intimately associated with menstruation this type of cancer can also cause irregular periods or bleeding and possible discomfort during sex," says Bill, a nurse specialist at Macmillan. "The position of the ovaries near the pelvis also means that that they can affect other body functions if a tumour or swelling presses on the other organs nearby. That kind of pressure might show up as constipation, back pain or difficulty with passing water."
Early diagnosis is crucial when it comes to ovarian cancer. "Ovarian cancer is a very challenging disease to treat, primarily because most women (75%) are diagnosed once the disease has spread," explains Alex at Target Ovarian Cancer. "Treatment for ovarian cancer includes surgery and usually chemotherapy. In this sense it's not dissimilar to other cancers. Radiotherapy is not generally used except to relieve certain symptoms. However, whilst other cancers have seen improvements in treatments, there have been no new life-extending treatments in ovarian cancer in over 20 years."
While it's true that women who take the pill are less likely to develop ovarian cancer, there's a bigger picture to consider. "Long-term use of the oral contraceptive pill lowers the risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer, but it can increase the risk of other cancers," points out Alex at Target Ovarian Cancer. "For this reason, it's important that women discuss any concerns they have with their doctor. Taking the pill for five years or more does not necessarily stop you developing ovarian cancer, but it reduces the possibility."
It's thought that part of the reason for the high number of cases of ovarian cancer in the western world could be linked to the fact more and more women are having children later in life. "Having children has a protective effect against ovarian cancer," says Tania at Ovarian Cancer Action. "The fewer menstrual cycles a woman has, the less 'wear and tear' her ovaries receive over the course of her lifetime. In developed countries, women often postpone motherhood until later in adult life or choose not to have children."
As with other types of cancer, knowing about your family's medical history can make a huge difference. "Women who are known to be at high risk of developing the disease because of a family connection sometimes have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed," says Alex at Target Ovarian Cancer. "This is known to reduce the risk by 90%. Women who have two or more family members on the same side who have had ovarian cancer and/or breast cancer are at increased risk. That's why it's important for women to understand their family history, and to seek advice if necessary."
Although ovarian cancer can affect women of any age, women over the age of 40 are most at risk, as are those where there's a family history of cancer. "Some ovarian cancers are caused by an inherited faulty gene that can be passed down family lines, through both women and men," explains Tania. "In particular, there are two faulty genes that have been identified as causes of ovarian cancer, named BRCA1 and BRCA2. These same genes are responsible for hereditary breast cancer. Consequently, there are families where a number of relatives may develop ovarian, breast or both breast and ovarian cancer. "
Many people underestimate how common ovarian cancer is but in the UK, around 6,500 cases are diagnosed each year, and survival rates are worringly low. "A recent international benchmarking study published in The Lancet showed that women in the UK are less likely than women in comparable countries to survive ovarian cancer longer than one year from diagnosis," says Tania. "In fact, survival rates of UK woman rank seventh in Europe. Only 41% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK will survive five years."
However, if the cancer is detected early, the statistics are very different. "The evidence points to early diagnosis being key to improving UK women's survival rates for ovarian cancer," says Tania. "90% of women will survive longer than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage of the disease. Unfortunately, there is very low awareness amongst UK women that ovarian cancer has symptoms and GPs may not always recognise the symptoms as indicative of the disease."
Although the link between diet and ovarian cancer isn't clear, it's common knowledge that being overweight increases your chances of developing cancers of the breast and womb, and can also increase your chances of developing a more aggressive type of ovarian cancer. "We do know that the incidence is lower in Mediterranean countries, compared with Nordic countries," says Dr Sean Kehoe, medical adviser to the ovarian cancer charity Ovacome. "This could be down to diet, genes, or the environment."
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month last from 1 to 31 March. For more information and help visit www.ovarian.org.uk.
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I lost a dear friend to this disease just before Christmas last year.
Please take heed of the advice here - and that goes for GP's too. She had gone to her GP and was dismissed as being "neurotic" as her mother had also had ovarian cancer and the GP said she was naturally worried but for no real reason. She knew there was something not right but 18 months later when she returned to him and he finally referred her, she had 2 tumours, one the size of the grapefruit and was told she had terminal cancer.
This brave lady fought for over 5 years to stay as long as she could with her young family. If you ever have any doubt, insist the GP sends you for a simple ultrasound. It literally could mean the difference between life and death.
To repeat the other blogs - please, please, be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Insist on tests, if you are remotely concerned, even if it is just the CA125 blood marker test. Although not conclusive, at least they will then do further tests, if you know to ask! It could just save your life. I had no idea of ovarian cancer and was being treated at a hospital for (you've guessed it) bloating and feeling full, etc. The first raised CA125 (228) was noted in May last year and nothing done, or even commented on to me. The second time the CA125 was tested was in September, by which time it was 1600. The doctor then said he was going to refer me for a further test, but gave me no indication that anything serious could be going on. I finally got the test/referral in December, when I was diagnosed with stage 3c and CA125 was 3600. I am sooooo angry at the hospital for not picking it up sooner and mostly for not giving me a warning in September, so that I could make sure I did not wait too long for the appointment. Having recently moved, I had a lot on my plate and put tiredness & feeling out-of-sorts down to that. By the time I was diagnosed, referred to the Cancer Centre for my area and was seen, it was this February before I had the operation. If only someone had said something last May!!
I am now waiting to start Chemotherapy next week, with only a 40% chance of living for 5 years. This is not the retirement I had envisaged when I stopped working 2 years ago. I am now 66.
Please talk to any other women you know, to make them aware. Don't leave it to the doctors - look after yourself!!
My wife got ovarian cancer and although she complained to her doctor several times about the fatigue and stomach pains, the doctors did not send her further tests. It was only when the growth reached the size of a melon that the doctors send her for tests to the hospital.
Is Ovarian cancer so difficult to detect ?
For a guide to symptoms go to 'Target Ovarian Cancer' dot org dot uk. (I cannot put a link on here). They have a page devoted to them and a symptom tracker to use.
BE AWARE and tell all the women you know and ask them to pass the info on.
@Anna. YOu're right to an extent, but it took a fair bit of testing with my sister to find the cancer, probably because they couldn't believe that a 17 year old had it in her ovaries.
@Squif I agree, there should be some sort of screening, but as I understand it, women will only be screened if thre's a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer within the close family. I am very aware of the symptoms of both cancers myself, because there is a history in the family, though not close enough family to warrant me being screened
@Michelle Harrison I'm heartbroken to read your story, what a thing for you and your young family to have to go through! I feel your frustration and anger totally. Love and hugs x
@Denise. Cancer is within all of us, but there are various things that can trigger it off. The specialist who treated my sister thinks that a bank raid where she was badly traumatised triggered it in her. THat happened 6 months before she died
YORKSHIRE CHARITY TO RAISE FUNDS FOR RESEARCH INTO A RARE CANCER
AFFECTING YOUNG PEOPLE
A Yorkshire charity has pledged to raise funds for research into a rare cancer, as many teenagers and young adults are potentially missing out on vital treatment due to a lack of understanding of cancer in this age group.
As part of its ongoing fight against cancer in young people, the Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust (LCYCT) has pledged to raise funds into research to help establish the best form of treatment for young adults with Germ Cell Tumours (GCTs). GCTs usually affect the testes and ovaries or gonads as they are collectively referred to. Although rare, tumours in the gonads are amongst the most common cancer in adolescents.
Unfortunately GCTs in this age group are often overlooked as medical teams focus more on children, older adults or specifically men or women, which means treatment for adolescents is poorly understood and often undertaken on wards that aren’t tailored to young patients’ needs.
The research is being led by a team based in Leeds and Huddersfield on behalf of the NCRI Testis CSG, the Gynaecological CSG and the Teenage and Young People CSG, and also involves collaborations with laboratories and clinical teams from across the UK, as well as centres and specialists in Europe and USA.
Dr Johnathan Joffe, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and Leeds, is part of the team coordinating the research. He said: “The research will, for the first time, explain why these tumours behave differently in different age groups and will demonstrate the optimal way to treat and cure more patients with these cancers. It will also hopefully put an end to the separate approaches currently being used by cancer teams.”
The charity has created a fun, but serious viral promotional film featuring Huddersfield-born Rugby League players and charity ambassadors Andy Raleigh and Keith Senior, to highlight the Trust’s pioneering funding venture.
To view the promotional film on its website www.lauracranetrust.org or text GNAD42 2 to 70070 to donate £2 and pledge your support to the campaign.
I was lucky many years ago when a large ovarian cyst caused trouble and early cervical cancer was detected only when I became hospitalised. The cyst itself was benign.
I thank my then GP who thought he had felt a lump when he examined me earlier and told me to come back after the pain had subsided to complete the examination. He could have so easily have just said come back if you get any more pain, and time would have dragged on.
I had a hysterectomy within four weeks later.
Angela, I am so angry too, for you and all the others who waited unnecessarily, while test results languished unattended. Whatever the final results, these delays make you feel uncared for.
I hope with all my heart that you get many good years of retirement. xx
Good luck to you too, Sharon.
We need to shout louder.