At Eve Health, we are committed to sharing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, which is the deadliest women’s cancer. Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer in Australia, and it has been the same story for 30 years now. Early detection is the key to saving lives.
What is ovarian cancer?
In its simplest terms, Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA) describes it as “a disease where some of the cells in one or both ovaries start to grow abnormally and develop into cancer.”
There are three types of ovarian cancers:
- Epithelial tumours (the most common), which affects the surface layers of the ovary
- Germ cell tumours, which begin in the cells that eventual develop into eggs
- Stromal cell and other rare types, which include sex-cord stromal cell ovarian cancer, stromal tumours and sarcomas.
It is also possible to have borderline epithelial tumours which are sometimes called “low malignant potential” tumours.
Who can get ovarian cancer?
About 1580 women are diagnosed each year in Australia, according to OCA. Age 64 is the average age a woman is diagnosed, and though it mainly affects those aged over 50, there are still younger cases.
What is the survival rate of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer remains the deadliest women’s cancer in Australia and is the eighth most common cancer. Unfortunately, only about 44 of every 100 women diagnosed are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer can be similar to other conditions which makes them difficult to recognise. Some symptoms may include:
- Abdominal or pelvic pain, pressure or discomfort
- Increased abdominal size
- Persistent abdominal bloating
- Excessive fatigue or lethargy
- Changed bowel habits
- A need to urinate often or urgently
- Feeling full after only eating a small amount
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Appetite loss
- Irregular periods
- Bleeding in-between periods
- Post-menopausal bleeding.
There are factors too that may increase a women’s risk for developing ovarian cancer including their increasing age, hereditary factors, medical history and lifestyle factors.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
There are not any standard screening tests like there are for breast cancer. For this reason, it is important women contact their doctor if they experience anything new or abnormal.
A GP will perform tests to decide whether a person’s symptoms are due to ovarian cancer or other causes. Tests may also include a CA125 blood test, an ultrasound and an internal vaginal examination. If any tests indicate cancer, the GP refers their patient to a specialist in women’s health and cancer – a gynaecological oncologist – and you should be seen in two weeks. Further tests with the gynaecological oncologist may include:
- A computerised tomography (CT) scan (a three-dimensional scan of organs)
- Tissue sample (biopsy)
- Chest x-ray to check if a cancer has spread
- Removal of fluid from your abdomen if it has built up
- Laparoscopy to enable tissue samples to be taken for testing in the laboratory, or a laparotomy.
For women awaiting test results, it can be an anxious time, so it is helpful to ask when results are due back. Speak to your GP if you would like to know about any other supportive resources, or there is also an Ovarian Cancer Australia support team available to speak to during business hours on 1300 660 334.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves surgery and chemotherapy or a combination of both. Sometimes it could also include radiotherapy. Treatment really depends on the stage and grade of cancer and a person’s health. The Cancer Council has comprehensive booklets and fact sheets about treatment options at the link: https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/treatment/.
More information about ovarian cancer and resources:
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