6 things to know about ovarian cancer as charity warns of low awareness

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Target Ovarian Cancer suggests lack of awareness (Alamy/PA)

If you’re confused about the symptoms of ovarian cancer, you’re not alone. Target Ovarian Cancer says only 3% of women are confident in naming all the warning signs of the disease – and more awareness is badly needed.

The four main symptoms are persistent gas; pelvic or abdominal pain; Bloating or loss of appetite and increased need to urinate.

But only one in five could identify bloating as a sign, according to a survey of 1,000 women across the UK. Only 1% could identify increased urination or frequency as a symptom, and only 3% knew that bloating or loss of appetite could be a sign of ovarian cancer.

Almost a third (32%) knew that pelvic or abdominal pain was a symptom.

Aside from these key symptoms, what else should you know?

1. It’s not a “silent” killer

Ovarian cancer is often mistakenly called “the silent killer” because people often think it has no symptoms. The reality is that many women live with symptoms long before they see a doctor and receive a diagnosis.

2. The symptoms are subtle

However, the four main symptoms are often less obvious than, for example, breast cancer. Because everyone has likely experienced these symptoms at some point, it can be difficult to tell if it’s a sign of ovarian cancer. The key is in the persistence of the symptoms and noticing if they don’t go away.

3. It also affects young women

Postmenopausal women who have not had children or who are infertile are at greatest risk of developing the disease, but younger women can also get it. Target Ovarian Cancer says that while most cases occur in women who are past menopause, about 1,000 women under the age of 50 develop the disease each year.

4. A cervical swab will not detect it

According to a 2019 study by Target Ovarian Cancer and YouGov, one in five women incorrectly believe that a cervical swab can detect ovarian cancer. The truth is that there is no test for ovarian cancer, so women need to be careful to catch the symptoms early.

If you’re concerned, downloading a symptom tracker from the App Store can help you record how often you urinate, how often you have abdominal pain and bloating, and other changes that might be important to your doctor.

5. It’s not the same as cervical cancer

There are many different types of gynecologic cancer, including cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. Each of these cancers has different signs and symptoms.

6. It’s more common than you think

According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 7,500 new cases of ovarian cancer in the UK each year. Because most women are diagnosed after the cancer has already spread, about 45% survive their cancer for 5 years or more. If you suspect you are showing the symptoms of ovarian cancer, talk to your GP.

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