Ovarian cancer is currently the fifth most common cancer in women in Britain, with more than 7,000 women diagnosed each year.
For women, ovaries are an important part of the reproductive system. Every month from puberty your ovaries release an egg, which travels down one of the fallopian tubes to the womb where it might be fertilised. They also produce the female sex hormones called oestrogen and progesterone which control a women’s menstrual cycle until they reach the menopause.
Normally the body’s cells grow and replenish in an orderly way when and where they’re needed. If you have ovarian cancer, the cells in your ovaries have started to multiply in an abnormal way.
We don’t know what causes ovarian cancer however, there are certain factors known to increase your risk which include the following:
- Getting Older – Most cases of ovarian cancer happen after the menopause, which is why around eight in ten cases are in women over 50.
- Family History – If you have close relatives who’ve had ovarian or breast cancer you may be more likely to develop the cancer due to inherited genetic changes. Check with your doctor if you have family members who have been diagnosed with ovarian or breast cancer, or you yourself have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Smoking – Tobacco increases the risk of mucinous ovarian tumours. If you stop smoking, your risk will eventually go back down to normal.
- Being overweight or tall – The risk of ovarian cancer is higher in women who have a BMI over 30 but haven’t been through the menopause yet. Research has also found taller women are more at risk of ovarian cancer than shorter women.
The signs of ovarian cancer are often related to other less serious conditions and tend to present at a later stage as the symptoms can be very mild and easy to ignore. These might include abdominal pain or swelling, feeling full, loss of appetite, weight loss, or pressure on your bladder. If these symptoms are occurring frequently and not settling then you should see your doctor as soon as possible – especially if you are over 50 or have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer.
Screening and Diagnosis
If you have any of the associated symptoms you should visit a GP who can examine you to see if your womb and ovaries feel normal. They’ll look for things like lumps or swellings and may also want to examine your cervix – the muscle at the opening of your womb – to identify if there are any problems.
At Private GP Extra, we benefit from having our services available in a number of hospitals across the region, and can provide you with a blood test and ultrasound, if required. If the results are positive, we can refer you straight into a Consultant Gynaecologist.
Some ovarian cancers produce a protein called CA125, which is carried in the blood. Around 90% of women with ovarian cancer have raised CA125 levels. One of our GPs can provide you with a blood test to see if your levels are normal. If your test shows high levels, you’ll need to have an ultrasound scan to help identify the problem.
If you are concerned about ovarian cancer you should speak to a GP who can refer you to a specialist if required.
Dr Adam Simon is founder and lead GP at Private GP Extra. For more information or to book an appointment please call 0161 428 4464.