March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. An ideal reminder to look into the symptoms of this cancer and how you can manage any side effects.
Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women.
In this article we'll be taking a brief look at:
- Symptoms to be aware of and getting them checked out.
- Causes and risk factors.
- How we can help you live well and manage your symptoms and side effects.
What are the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- feeling constantly bloated.
- a swollen tummy.
- discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area.
- feeling full quickly when eating.
- needing to pee more often than usual or experiencing bowel problems.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are not always easy to recognise because they're like those of some more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Therefore, it’s important to see your GP if:
- you have been feeling bloated, particularly more than 12 times in one month.
- you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer (listed above) that will not go away.
- you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it.
A GP can do some simple tests to see if you have it. The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure. But often it's not recognised until it's already spread and a cure is not possible. Therefore, if you have already seen a GP and your symptoms continue or get worse, go back to them and explain this.
Causes of Ovarian Cancer
The exact cause of cancer of the ovaries is unknown, but there are a few factors that can increase your risk slightly, such as:
- being over the age of 50,
- a family history of ovarian or breast cancer – this could mean you have inherited genes that increase your cancer risk.
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – although any increase in cancer risk is likely to be very small.
- endometriosis – a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb.
- being overweight/having a higher BMI.
- lack of exercise.
- exposure to asbestos.
Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
Treatment of ovarian cancer depends on things such as how far the cancer has spread and your general health.
The main treatments are:
- surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible – this will often involve removing both ovaries, the womb and the tubes connecting them to each other (fallopian tubes),
- chemotherapy – this is usually used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells, but is occasionally used before surgery to shrink the cancer.
Common side effects of treatment of Ovarian Cancer
- surgical menopause - surgery and chemotherapy for younger women who have not gone through the menopause can mean that their menopause starts much sooner than it would naturally. This can bring about a range of additional side effects,
- suppressed immune system making you more likely to catch infections and viruses,
- numbness in fingers and toes,
- hair loss.
Coping with chemotherapy side effects
Chemotherapy targets cancer cells, which are dividing and growing quickest.
But in the process other fast growing cells – such as those that line the digestive tract, some skin cells, some of your blood cells, including your red cells, white cells and platelets, and the cells that make your hair – are also affected.
Coping with cancer
We can support you through your cancer experience.
If you're new to Penny Brohn UK, a great starting point is joining us for our Introduction to Penny Brohn UK session, held every two weeks. Meet our therapists and find out more about the support we provide and what you need to help you live well with cancer.
Useful resources and further support
Ovacome Menopause information booklet - More information about surgical menopause because of treatment for ovarian cancer.
Track symptoms with Ovacome’s Symptom Diary - If you're experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer, use this diary to keep track and to share with your GP.
Target Ovarian Cancer guides - A range of free guides if you’re affected by ovarian cancer.
Macmillan Cancer Support - Understanding Cancer of the Ovary .
World Cancer Research Fund: Women’s Health Guide - A free guide for women with practical tips on staying healthy and minimising your risk of getting cancer.