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
- 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
- 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