March marks the awareness month for the 6th most common cancer form in UK females. Almost six in 10 ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage in the UK which is why raising awareness about the symptoms and risk factors is so imperative.
Here at Melan Mag, we want to support and educate women on matters that affect us all, so we’ve pulled together what you need to know about ovarian cancer, the symptoms and a first-hand story from Adele, a survivor of the illness.
What is ovarian cancer?
According to the NHS, ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women. It mainly affects women who have been through the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can sometimes affect younger women too.
“The ovaries are two small glands that make up part of the female reproductive system. They have two main functions: to produce and store eggs for reproduction, and to produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the ovary start to multiply, creating a tumour. If the tumour is malignant it is cancerous and, left unchecked, may grow and spread to other parts of the body.”
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include feeling constantly bloated, a swollen tummy, discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area, feeling full quickly when eating and needing to go to the toilet more often than normal. The symptoms aren’t always easy to recognise because they’re similar to those of some more common conditions, such as IBS.
Other symptoms may include persistent indigestion or nausea, pain during sex, change in bowel movements, back pain, vaginal bleeding, feeling constantly tired and unintentional weight-loss.
The ovarian.org blog tells the story of a few ovarian cancer patients, such as Adele Sewell who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer eight years after she was told she had breast cancer. Adele has previously shared her breast cancer experience with us.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. I didn’t think I was at risk at all. I was the first person in my family that I knew of to have it. I decided that it was bad luck but as I was a lucky person, that that would be it for me and cancer. After eight years I was diagnosed again. It took longer to work out that I had ovarian cancer than my entire journey from diagnosis through to treatment with breast cancer.
It started with a pain in my left buttock radiating all the way down my calf. I was told that I had sciatica and the specialist recommended Pilates. I started to need the toilet every hour. I was getting constipated and even though I was dieting and exercising, I was losing weight from my hips but putting it on around my waist. Strangely, my belly button was very sore.
After eighteen months, I asked for a smear test. I incorrectly assumed that a smear would discover all female gynaecological cancers but I was wrong.
After I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they said that most people don’t get two completely different cancers without some kind of genetic involvement.
In January 2008 I found out that I had the BRCA gene mutation. I realised that it was a can of worms for my family members as they could have it too. I immediately wrote to them to tell them that I had the mutation and now my sister and brother have taken action. I would encourage all women to ask if anyone in their family has had cancer. You could find out that you’re at risk.”
Information kindly supplied by Cancer Research UK, NHS and Ovarian.org.uk
Visit ovarian.org to find out more.