Ovarian Cancer symptoms – what you need to know

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer often won’t give you any obvious symptoms in its early stages. But if you do start to develop symptoms, they may include:

  • Feeling bloated and/or having a swollen stomach
  • Feeling discomfort in the stomach or pelvic area
  • A loss of appetite
  • Feeling full although you haven’t eaten much
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Losing weight
  • Constantly feeling tired

How many women have ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-death among women. And in the UK, it causes over 4,000 deaths per year. Around 140 women are diagnosed with the disease per week, meaning about 20 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each day.

Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer gives women the best chance of survival. But sadly most women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread.  Unfortunately this makes treatment more challenging and less successful. In fact, almost 60% of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage.

What are the risk factors?

The risk of developing ovarian cancer depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Age. Although younger women can also develop ovarian cancer, the risk does increase with age. Around 80% of cases are diagnosed in women over 50. And most cases actually occur in women who have gone through the menopause.
  • Family history. Women with relatives, particularly close relatives, who have had ovarian cancer are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Lifestyle factors. 21% of ovarian cancer cases in the UK are linked to lifestyle factors. These lifestyle risk factors include being overweight and smoking.

Is there a test for ovarian cancer?

Contrary to popular belief, a cervical smear test cannot detect ovarian cancer. Often, your doctor will suggest a blood test to check your CA-125 protein levels in the first instance. In 90% of women with ovarian cancer CA-125 levels will be raised.

But it’s very important to note that a raised level does not diagnose ovarian cancer and further tests from your GP will be required for a full diagnosis. Read more about the benefits and limitations of the CA-125 blood test here.