Ovarian cancer – what you need to know

Katarina Kadova
Oncology Clinical Lead Nurse at Bupa UK
05 March 2018

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women in the UK, with about 7,100 women diagnosed each year. It’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and this blog takes you through some of the key facts about ovarian cancer including risks, symptoms and what to do if you think you may have the condition.

What is ovarian cancer?

The ovaries are two small organs deep in a woman’s abdomen. If you’re of childbearing age, your ovaries regulate your menstrual cycle, produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and each month release an egg that can be fertilised.

Ovarian cancer is a tumour (uncontrolled growth of cells) on or near your ovaries. In most cases, cancer develops in the cells that line your ovaries and fallopian tubes (the tubes leading from your ovaries to your womb).

Am I at risk of ovarian cancer?

There are a number of factors that may put you at risk of ovarian cancer. The main ones are:

  • age – most women diagnosed are postmenopausal
  • family history and genes – you may be at increased risk if a close family member has had the condition, or if you have certain genes
  • endometriosis – if you’ve had this you’re at increased risk
  • lifestyle factors – being obese or smoking puts you at greater risk

If you’re worried that you may be at risk of ovarian cancer for any reason, speak to your GP. They can refer you to a gynaecologist if necessary.

Can I protect myself from ovarian cancer?

There are some factors that can reduce your chances of getting ovarian cancer.

  • having children – the more children you have, the lower the risk
  • breastfeeding
  • the pill – if you take the combined oral contraceptive pill, your risk goes down
  • surgery – a tubectomy, hysterectomy or oophorectomy can reduce your risk

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

In the early stages, you may not have any symptoms, and any you do have are usually ones that can be caused by other conditions. These include:

  • having a swollen tummy and feeling bloated
  • feeling full quickly and losing appetite
  • stomach or back pain
  • needing to wee often or more urgently

Other symptoms you may notice are:

  • weight loss
  • changes in bowel habits
  • indigestion
  • being very tired
  • unusual bleeding from the vagina

What should I do if I have these symptoms?

If you experience any of these symptoms, you don’t necessarily have ovarian cancer. There are a whole range of less serious conditions that could be causing them. However, if you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms on most days, make an appointment to see your GP.

Your GP may refer you for tests to investigate possible ovarian cancer, including:

  • a blood test
  • an internal examination to look at the womb and ovaries
  • a scan of your abdomen and pelvis
  • a type of keyhole surgery called gynaecological laparoscopy

Further information and support

Nobody likes to think about being diagnosed with cancer. But our health insurance gives you personal cancer care with support at every stage of your treatment for as long as you have a policy with us. Learn more about our health insurance.

Katarina Kadova
Katerina Kadkova
Oncology Clinical Lead Nurse at Bupa UK

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