Every year, around 1,500 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, most of them with an advanced stage of the disease.
It’s the deadliest form of gynecological cancer and it shares symptoms with many common – and less serious – health problems, so always be aware of changes in your body and see your GP if you’re worried.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a disease where cells in one or both of a woman’s ovaries begin to grow abnormally and develop into cancer. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age.
There are four types of ovarian cancer:
- Epithelial: begins in the outer cells that cover the ovary and accounts for about 90% of cases.
- Borderline tumours: a group of epithelial tumours that aren’t as aggressive as other epithelial tumours. The outlook for women with borderline tumours is generally good regardless of whether the disease is diagnosed early or late.
- Germ cell: begins in the cells that mature into eggs, accounts for about 5% of ovarian cancers and usually affects women under 30.
- Sex-cord stromal cell: begins in the cells that release female hormones, accounts for about 5% of ovarian cancers and can affect women of any age.
Germ cell and sex-cord stromal cell ovarian cancers are often curable and, if they affect only one ovary, it may be possible for younger women to have children after treatment.
What are the symptoms?
Ovarian cancer has noticeable symptoms but can be hard to diagnose because many women experience these symptoms at times because of less serious health problems.
The most common symptoms reported by women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are:
- abdominal or pelvic pain
- increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
- needing to urinate often or urgently
- feeling full after eating a small amount.
Other signs include:
- changes in your bowel habits
- unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- bleeding between periods or after menopause
- back pain
- indigestion or nausea
- excessive fatigue
- pain during intercourse.
When should I see my doctor?
See your GP if you have any of these symptoms and:
- they are new for you
- you have experienced them multiple times during a four-week period.
Keep track of your symptoms so that you can tell your doctor (Ovarian Cancer Australia’s downloadable Symptom Diary can be used for this purpose).
We offer specialised women’s health appointments at Family Doctors Plus with a holistic approach to women’s needs.
Diagnosis and treatment
A combination of tests are used to diagnose ovarian cancer, including a blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound. If these strongly suggest ovarian cancer, then your doctor will recommend an operation, which is the only definite way to diagnose ovarian cancer and determine the extent of the disease.
Treatment usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, depending on the type and stage of the ovarian cancer and the woman’s general health.
Make an appointment at Family Doctors Plus today if you are worried you may be suffering symptoms of ovarian cancer.