A recent RESEARCH commissioned by the Irish Gynecological Oncology Network (INGO) has highlighted that 79% of women in Ireland are not confident they would notice a symptom of ovarian cancer.
Ireland has one of the highest mortality rates from ovarian cancer in Europe.
About 400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer here every year and nearly 300 women die every year.
It is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in Ireland after lung, breast and colon cancer.
Early diagnosis can significantly improve survival.
Bernadette Quinlan was diagnosed with the disease after suffering from intermittent pain in her lower abdomen.
“I was pretty sure it was a kidney infection,” said the Ballincollig mother of three.
An initial scan showed nothing, but a few months later she developed persistent bloating.
“It just felt like there was a lot of liquid in my stomach, so much that I could almost feel the liquid moving when I turned over in bed,” she recalls.
That was in July 2020. A scan and follow-up tests confirmed that Bernadette had stage 3 ovarian cancer.
“I wasn’t expecting that, but at the same time it was a relief to know what was going on,” she said.
Her treatment began immediately and included six chemo sessions, but since only some cancers responded, she also had to undergo a hysterectomy and other medications.
Diagnosed at 62, she is now 64, in remission and doing well. Her daughters are 31, 35 and 36 and she has encouraged them all to be extra vigilant for possible symptoms.
“In my case, it was persistent bloating, and it’s entirely possible that you only have a single symptom, or that they’re minor until it gets to a late stage,” she said.
“Awareness is the most important thing,” she emphasized.
The INGO recently launched an awareness campaign around the BEAT symptoms. These are:
• Bloating that is persistent and does not come and go
• Eat less and feel full faster
• Abdominal and pelvic pain that you feel most days
• Toilet changes when urinating or having a bowel movement
The clear message is that you should contact your GP if you have had any of these symptoms for at least three weeks. The campaign also seeks to dispel the myth that cervical cancer screening detects ovarian cancer.
Donal Brennan, professor of gynecologic oncology at UCD and academic leader of UCD’s Gynecologic Oncology Group, Mater Misericordiae and St Vincent University Hospitals, said: “Cervical swabs are not used to detect ovarian cancer. There are no exact tests and that’s why we want people to be aware of BEAT symptoms.
“If symptoms persist for three weeks or more, you need to contact your GP.
“It’s also worth checking out www.thisisGO.ie as there is a lot of information and very helpful resources there.”
dr Sharon O’Toole, Senior Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin, added: “There is no such thing as a screening test for ovarian cancer, but we can all be more symptom-aware.”
She pointed out that the Symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be confused with irritable bowel syndrome.
“We need to spread the BEAT message so women know that if they have any of the symptoms for three weeks or more, they should contact their GP,” she said.