Why taking ovary-action could save your life

Ovarian cancer: It’s known as “the silent killer” and is the deadliest of all women’s cancers, with a survival rate of just 45 per cent.

Every day four Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and three of them will die.

But a recent study has found that a woeful lack of awareness of this cancer and its symptoms is a global problem, resulting in delays in women seeking vital medical attention.

Which is we’re being urged to take ovary-action this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

Ovarian cancer awareness is crucial

Ovarian Cancer Australia chief executive Jane Hill says the Every Woman Study revealed more than two-thirds of woman didn’t know anything about ovarian cancer before their diagnosis, while nine in 10 had experienced multiple symptoms beforehand but were slow to act.

“Women lead busy lives and so firstly may ignore symptoms because they’re caught up in working, care-giving and parenting,” she says.

“The symptoms are quite generic, so others might feel their complaints won’t be taken seriously.

“If found in its early stages, women have an 80 per cent chance of being alive and well after five years. Unfortunately, 75 per cent of all women are diagnosed in advanced stages.”

Ovarian cancer signs to watch out for

While there’s no early detection test, the most commonly reported symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount
  • Needing to urinate often or urgently

If you’re not comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis or are still concerned, seek a second opinion.

Additional symptoms can include:

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Lower back pain
  • Indigestion or nausea,
  • Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
  • Pain during sex or bleeding afterwards.

“While all of these can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions, if your symptoms are new and persistent you should visit their doctor without delay,” Jane says.

“You know your body better than anyone else, so listen to what it is saying and trust your instincts.

“If you’re not comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis or are still concerned, seek a second opinion.”

Who is most at risk of ovarian cancer?

Women who may be at higher risk include those over 50, those who’ve never had children or had them later in life, those suffering from endometriosis and those who began puberty early or menopause late.

Ovarian cancer can also occur through a genetic predisposition, the BRCA1 (made famous by Angelina Jolie) and BRCA2 gene mutation.

Of the 1600 ovarian cancer diagnoses in Australia last year, about 17 per cent are thought to carry the BRCA gene mutations.

How to get involved in ovary-action

Ovarian Cancer Australia is calling on Aussies to host a Paint the Town Teal fundraising event during February.

“Throw an afternoon tea, long lunch, golf day or gala dinner. Anything goes, as long as it’s teal, the international colour for ovarian cancer,” Ms Hill urged.

“This disease is taking our mothers, daughters, wives and sisters – it’s not going away. Together, we can change the story of ovarian cancer for future generations!”

Written by Liz McGrath.