What is ovarian cancer?

About 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK, making it the fifth most common cancer in the UK. There are several different cancers of the ovaries dependent on where the cancerous cells are. The most common one is epithelial ovarian cancer (90% of diagnosis), which affects the surface layers of the ovary, but there are germ cell tumours (in the cells that make your eggs) and stromal tumours, which develop within the cells that hold the ovaries together.

Symptoms related to Ovarian Cancer include bloating, loss of appetite or feeling full quickly. Pain in the pelvis or abdominal region, or an urge to urinate urgently or frequently are also signs to be aware of, and you must consult your GP as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Most cases occur in women over the age of 50 years and there are several possible causes which have been identified, that make developing the condition more likely:

  • Having a close relative (mother, sister or daughter) who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer (or breast cancer) might increase your risk of developing the condition. If they were diagnosed before the age of 50, it might be that they possess a faulty gene and it is advised that you be tested for this gene (although only about one in 10 ovarian cancers are thought to be caused by a faulty gene).
  • Because the risk of ovarian cancer developing increases every time a woman ovulates, reducing the number of times ovulation occurs can slightly reduce the risk of developing the condition. Therefore, taking a contraceptive pill, having children and breastfeeding and having a hysterectomy may have protective effects.
  • Small increases in ovarian cancer diagnosis have been identified in women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, once stopped, a women’s risk is equal to those who have never taken HRT after 5 years.
  • Women who suffer from Endometriosis have a slightly greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Reducing your risk of ovarian cancer:

  • Avoid a high-fat diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Participate in regular physical activity
  • If you have a strong family history of ovarian cancer, ask your GP about screening and/or talk to them about preventing ovulation through taking the contraceptive pill, pregnancy and breastfeeding or a hysterectomy.

Further reading is available at www.nhs.uk/conditions and www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/ovarian-cancer

Posted in: Health and Wellbeing