Ovarian cancer – do you know what to look for?

The Public Health Agency is highlighting the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which runs throughout March.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, said: “Cancer of the ovary is not a common cancer but it does affect over 150 women each year.

“Too often it is diagnosed late, when treatment options may be limited. We would like women to be aware of the early symptoms and to see their doctor if these occur. The earlier a woman with ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the more likely she is to have a better outcome.”

Ovarian cancer is more common in women over the age of 50.

The early symptoms to look out for include:

• persistent bloating for three weeks or more;

• persistent pelvic and abdominal pain;

• difficulty eating or feel full quickly;

• needing to pee urgently or more frequently than normal;

• changes in bowel habit;

• extreme fatigue (feeling very tired);

• unexplained weight loss.

Dr McCarthy continued: “If women do experience these symptoms, particularly the feeling of being bloated, it is best for them to seek advice from their general practitioner.

“Some of symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those seen in more common conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), therefore a patient’s GP may wish to undertake a simple blood test which helps provide more information on the possible underlying condition.

“The PHA and Health and Social Care Board are currently working closely with GPs and specialists to implement an agreed management pathway for patients suspected of having ovarian cancer.”

Dr Johnny Browne, Macmillan GP adviser for Northern Ireland, said: “Even though most women, at some point, experience bloating for a variety of reasons, persistent bloating, which is defined as bloating that doesn’t come and go and is present for at least three weeks, is a sign that you need to go to see your GP and get ovarian cancer ruled out.

“If you are worried about symptoms, keep a diary of when they occur and talk to your GP if they don’t clear up. The sooner ovarian cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.”

For information on support available for those affected by ovarian cancer in Northern Ireland visit www.angelsofhope.org.uk