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The Silent Killer

Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common female cancer, mainly affecting women over the age of fifty, often in the prime of their lives.

Nearly 7,000 women are newly diagnosed each year, compared with 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer(1).

It is the biggest gynaecological killer. Nearly 5,000 women will die each year as a result, compared with 1,120 deaths from cervical cancer.

Ovarian Cancer is often known as the 'silent killer ' - but it does not need to be! This campaign is about 'Breaking the Silence ' by being aware of persistent symptoms and taking action.
When ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, up to 90% of women survive.

Ovarian Cancer develops in the cells of the ovary, which produces eggs as part of the female reproductive system. If the cancer is confined to the ovary, two-thirds of patients have a good chance of surviving more than five years and may make a complete recovery. However, if the growth has spread significantly, only one in five women will survive for more than five years.

What are the Symptoms?

New research is demonstrating that despite being called the silent killer, there are persistent signs in around 90% of early stage cases, and that very frequent, persistent symptoms should alert doctors to include ovarian cancer as a possible diagnosis.

Symptoms may be vague but the key is not to ignore persistent or very frequent symptoms, such as:
bloating or feeling full
increase in abdomen size
weight loss
changes in bowel or bladder pattern that are consistent or progressive
back or abdominal pain
indigestion
abnormal bleeding from the vagina (this is uncommon, but should always be reported to your GP)

Bloating, urinary urgency, and increased abdominal size are the most common of these symptoms.

New research suggests that women with ovarian cancer typically experienced symptoms 20 to 30 times per month. But remember, these symptoms are also common to many other benign (non-life threatening) conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome - so do not panic - seek medical advice.
If any of these symptoms continue over a number of weeks, a GP should be consulted.
Don 't be afraid to voice your concerns to your doctor, mention ovarian cancer specifically.

As with all cancers, the sooner ovarian cancer can be detected, the greater the chance of long-term survival

Diagnosis

Cysts and benign growths on ovaries are not uncommon and are usually not cancerous. They are generally only discovered when tests are being carried out for other reasons. If a tumour is suspected, a blood test and an ultrasound scan are available. The CA125 blood test can detect a protein, which is given off by cancer cells and is found at high levels in 80% of patients with ovarian cancer, but it is also linked to other conditions, so is not failsafe. Transvaginal ultrasound can also be offered to obtain images of the womb and ovaries to help in diagnosis. A smear test WILL NOT detect ovarian cancer.

Treatment

Common treatments for Ovarian Cancer are:
Surgery - this is the initial treatment for almost all women with Ovarian Cancer. This is necessary to confirm the diagnosis
Chemotherapy - this is very useful in treating Ovarian Cancer and in most cases, is given after surgery. Doctors may recommend a combination of chemotherapy drugs
Radiotherapy - doctors rarely use radiotherapy in the treatment of early Ovarian Cancer. However, it is sometimes used to help with symptoms that arise as a result of advanced cancers.



For more information look at
Wellbeing of Women
but remember.... if you have a health worry your first port of call should be your GP (doctor).

July 2006
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