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The symptoms, causes and outlook for ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer awareness month image

According to Cancer Research UK, over 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK. Furthermore, Target Ovarian Cancer charity, reported that two thirds of women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer too late when the cancer is harder to treat. At Benenden Hospital, we can help you get a fast diagnosis so we can refer you to the appropriate NHS experts for further treatment. Read our guide to ovarian cancer so you know what to look out for:

What is ovarian cancer?

The ovaries are two small glands that form part of the female reproductive system, which is also made up of the vagina, cervix, uterus (womb) and Fallopian tubes. Ovaries have two main functions:

  • Produce, store, and release eggs for reproduction
  • Produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone

Ovarian cancer occurs when there are abnormal cells in the ovary which multiply, creating a tumour. Tumours will either be benign or malignant. Benign tumours are non-cancerous and do not usually spread. They may require some treatment but are rarely life-threatening. If the tumour is malignant, it is cancerous and when left untreated may spread to other parts of the body.

Your treatment will depend on the type, stage and grade of ovarian cancer you’re diagnosed with.

Unlike cervical, bowel and breast cancers, there is still not a reliable, effective screening for ovarian cancer.

What are the common symptoms of ovarian cancer?

40% of women wrongly think that cervical screening (a smear test) detects ovarian cancer (Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder 2022). Want to know more about smear tests before reading on? Mr Rowan Connell, our Consultant Gynaecologist and Medical Director answers the eight most common questions about smear tests.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Feeling constantly bloated one in five women know that bloating is a symptom of ovarian cancer (Target Ovarian Cancer)
  • A swollen tummy
  • Discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
  • Feeling full quickly when eating
  • Needing to pee more often than usual - this symptom could be a sign of a large cyst pressing on your bladder or due to stress/urinary incontinence if you struggle with frequent leaks too

These symptoms can be a number of things which are less serious such as irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome, so if you’re experiencing them, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have ovarian cancer.

When should you see your doctor?

You should see your GP if:

  • You have been feeling bloated, particularly if this has been for more than 12 times in a month
  • You have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that won’t go away
  • You have a family history of ovarian cancer and you are worried that you're at a higher risk of getting it

It is important to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible and to keep a note of what symptoms you’ve been experiencing as this will help when speaking to your doctor. It’s unlikely that you have cancer, but it’s always best to get checked out. Your doctor can carry out a blood test to check for a substance called CA125. CA125 is produced by some ovarian cancer cells. A high level of CA125 in your blood could be a sign of ovarian cancer, but a raised CA125 level doesn’t mean you definitely have cancer, it can also be caused by other conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids and even pregnancy.

You can read more about the CA125 test at Lab Tests Online UK.

What are the causes of ovarian cancer?

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but there are certain things than may increase a woman’s risk of getting it, which include:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having a family history of ovarian or breast cancer – this could mean that 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 – this is a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside of the womb
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Exposure to asbestos

What's the prognosis if I have ovarian cancer?

The quicker ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of a cure. Sometimes it’s not recognised until it’s already spread, and a cure is not possible.

Even after having had successful treatment there’s a high chance the cancer can come back within the next few years. Chemotherapy may help manage the symptoms and keep cancer under control for several months or years.

Overall, around half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will live for at least five years after diagnosis and about one in three will live at least ten years.

Our private gynaecology treatments and surgery

At Benenden Hospital we’re experts at treating a range of gynaecological issues, we’re sensitive to women’s health concerns and our Consultants and Nurses are easy to talk to.

Our women’s health hub provides a range of helpful articles to support you through whatever stage of life you’re at. Whether you’re still having periods, going through the menopause or postmenopausal, start taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health.

Our advanced technology means speedy diagnosis and private gynaecology treatment in one place, so you don’t have to wait and can get back to being you as quickly as possible.

As previously mentioned, we can help with diagnosis but we are unable to treat ovarian cancer. However, we can refer you to the appropriate NHS experts to get you the treatment you need.

Contact us about private gynaecology treatment

It's easy to find out more about treatment by contacting our Private Patient team via LiveChat, or by calling 01580 363158 or by completing our enquiry form.

Published on 01 March 2024