The survival rates make grim reading, but w&h is backing Target Ovarian Cancer’s campaign to make one million women aware of the symptoms… and save lives

While regular cervical smear tests and mammograms have become a way of life, there is no screening programme for the deadliest of all gynaecological cancers. More than that, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be confused with conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, leading to delay in seeking help or misdiagnosis.

This means that out of the 6,500 women diagnosed each year, sadly, only one in three will live beyond five years. Ovarian cancer is nearly four times as common as cervical cancer. Twelve women die every day from this disease, yet almost a third of women face delays of six months or more in getting a correct diagnosis from first visiting their GP, and a similar proportion are diagnosed through Accident and Emergency.

Description:  Cancer - Get the Facts About Ovarian Cancer

Frustratingly, if women were diagnosed at an early stage, it is believed 70 per cent could survive, but at present, in three-quarters of all cases, the cancer has already spread. This makes successful treatment much more difficult.

Yet our knowledge of this cancer is improving fast and new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) could help GPs identify symptoms early enough

What are the symptoms?

Lynn Holmes, gynaecological Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) for Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, suggests three aspects to bear in mind when considering seeking advice about symptoms: Are they frequent and happen more than 12 times a month? Are they persistent and don’t go away? Are they new and not normal for you? It may be help to make a note of symptoms and when they occur, and if you are worried, make an appointment with your GP. These are signs to watch for…

·         Increased abdominal size or persistent bloating.

·         Feeling full quicker

·         Urgency or more frequent need to empty the bladder

·         A feeling of discomfort or pressure in the abdomen – not acute pain.

·         Occasionally, other symptoms can include changes in bowel habit, feeling very tired and unexplained weight loss.

What you can do


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“Three quarters of women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread – only pancreatic cancer has a higher rate”

Spread the word Target Ovarian Cancer want one million women to understand what to look out for and how to seek help. And it’s all about you! Visit their website to download the symptoms leaflet, give it to your friends and find easy ways to raise awareness. Earlier diagnosis means saving lives, so learn about the symptoms and spread the world.

What’s needed Lack of investment has meant no new life-extending treatments for women with ovarian cancer have been developed for more than 20 years, but you can change that. Target Ovarian Cancer aim to raise money to fund research so that at least two new treatments or techniques are in final clinical trials by 2020. Find ideas to raise money on the Target Ovarian Cancer website.

Learn more at targetovariancancer.org.uk/onemillion or by calling (020) 79235470

Seeing your gp

While it’s unlikely you have such a serious condition, it’s fine to tell your GP you are worried about ovarian cancer. They can carry out a physical examination and, if necessary, arrange a CA-125 blood test, which is not infallible but looks for a specific cancer marker in the blood. Your GP can also refer you for an ultrasound, to check the ovary, possibly followed by either an MRI or CT scan, depending on your hospital.

How is it treated?


Description: There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer

There are more than 30 different types of ovarian cancer

Surgery and chemotherapy are the main options. Mr Khalil Razvi, consultant gynaecologist at Southend University Hospital, says it’s normal to perform a total hysterectomy. Sometimes chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumour before surgery.

Mr Razvi adds, “There is a trend now towards more radical surgery, especially in the upper abdomen, including removing the peritoneum, which is the lining of tissue that drapes the abdonminal wall and organs where the cancer may come back. Most women will then be given a course of Taxol and Carboplatin chemotherapies – and the combination usually clears 70 per cent of women of cancer. However, ovarian cancer does have a high recurrence rate.”

Doctors are now interested in Avastin (bevacizumab), a drug used in other cancers, to treat newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer. It’s not available on the NHS and it’s too early to say what difference it will make.

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