Although the majority of the 6,500 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK each year are menopausal, it is not solely confined to that group as younger women are also at risk.
The good news is that with early detection the survival rate is good with seven out of ten women treated will survive for five or more years. The bad news is that some of the symptoms are similar to those seen in more common conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) so your doctor may find it hard to diagnose.
What Can You Do?
Awareness is key, because to help your doctor diagnose ovarian cancer you need to monitor your body and report any symptoms as soon as you spot them. Also, cervical screening tests (smear tests) will not help to detect ovarian cancer so don’t rely on getting a clear result from that indicating you are clear of ovarian cancer.
Women need to learn to recognise the symptoms and go to see their doctor as soon as possible if they have any of the following consistently over a month and they don’t go away:
Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating (not the normal blow up around a period that comes and goes)
Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
Urinary symptoms such as more frequent or urgent need to pee
Those are the most common symptoms, but sometimes there can be other such as:
Changes in bowel habit
Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
Unexplained weight loss
If you regularly experience any of these symptoms and they are not normal for you then please don’t hesitate but go and see your doctor. They may be nothing, but it is important to be checked out. It will help your doctor if you also keep a note of your symptoms such as when they occur and if related to specific events. They will also want to know if there is any history of ovarian or breast cancer in your immediate family.
What Treatment Is Available?
First your doctor may suggest a CA125 blood test and, depending upon the results, they may order an internal scan. Alternatively, they may refer you to a specialist gynaecology unit for investigation, or if they do not think ovarian cancer is a likely cause they may ask you to return if your symptoms do not clear over a period of time.
Treatment normally involves chemotherapy and/or surgery – usually a total hysterectomy. If this is the case then supplemental bio-identical progesterone will help to counter the effects of this sudden surgical menopause.
Reducing Your Risk
Having a healthy hormone balance is essential and monitoring yourself for symptoms of oestrogen dominance, and tackling them would certainly be a good start. This article by Dame Dr Shirley Bond outlines them here and a diet that reduces other risk factors such as animal fats and refined sugar and replaces them with more plant-based foods, complex carbohydrates and fibre will also be of benefit.