Brinkmann Gynaecology

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month 2013

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month


March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month so we want to share some information about a disease that 125 women are diagnosed with each week in the UK.


Twice as many women survive ovarian cancer compared to 30 years ago, but there is still much to be done.  Survival rates in the UK for ovarian cancer are amongst the lowest in Europe for three main reasons according to a new study: the length of time it takes for women to first visit their GP; how quickly the condition is diagnosed and what services are available for their subsequent treatment.


Early diagnosis is key
The sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.  Early diagnosis means that seven out of ten women will survive for five or more years. But for GPs to be able to spot a possible case of ovarian cancer, women need to learn to recognise the symptoms and see their doctor as soon as they have concerns. Symptoms awareness currently provides the best safety net for women and early diagnosis often leads to the best outcomes.

Delays to diagnosis
But according to the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, lives are being cut short because of delays in diagnoses.  Some delays are contributed to a lack of symptom awareness of ovarian cancer and women not coming forward when they have concerns.

The traditional British ‘stiff upper lip’ appears to be significant factor preventing people from seeing their doctor.  According to a new landmark report published last month, a high proportion of people said that embarrassment and not wanting to waste the doctor’s time might stop them investigating a symptom that might be serious.  The UK stood out against all other countries in this poll and show that cultural factors may explain some of the differences in cancer survival between the UK and other high-income countries. This suggests that around 500 ovarian cancer deaths a year could be avoided in Britain if our survival record matched that of the rest of Europe.  It also suggests that British women must be encouraged to be confident enough to pursue any concerns with their health.

Misdiagnosis is also common because symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, meaning it can be difficult to recognise until the disease is more advanced.  30% of women are misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome; 15% with ovarian cysts and 13% with urinary infection. 

These delays mean that 75% of women are diagnosed once the cancer has spread when it becomes
so much harder to treat and survival rates are less favourable.

Know the warning signs
Being attuned to the warning signs of ovarian cancers helps detect the disease in its early stages, when treatment is more successful.  Any bleeding after menopause, no matter how small, is not normal.  Other symptoms may include feelings of bloating; swelling, pressure or pain in the abdomen; constipation or urinary problems; and fatigue.  As these symptoms are often associated with other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. But if these warning signs occur often and persistently, they can be suggestive of ovarian cancer.  The disease usually occurs in women who have gone through ‘the change of life’ or menopause so most cases occur over the age of 50.  However, younger women can also get ovarian cancer.

Screening for ovarian cancer
At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to look for ovarian cancer in the general population and cervical screening tests (smear tests) do not help to detect the disease.  But, if you are considered to be higher than average risk for ovarian cancer you may be able to have specific screening tests.  These are not yet available to everyone as researchers are still following the progress of this cancer screening trial.  But if you think you may be at high risk of ovarian cancer, visit your GP or gynaecological oncologist to discuss your concerns.

Do something about it
If you notice any unusual or persistent changes in your body, see your doctor right away.  You have nothing to lose and may have everything to gain.  If it is something serious, finding it early and beginning treatment quickly offers a far better chance of beating the disease.  Cancer treatments are more successful the earlier the disease is diagnosed.

See the right doctor
More than 60 percent of women diagnosed with gynaecological cancers are not treated by the correct doctor.  Gynaecological oncologists are highly specialised to care for women with reproductive cancers using the newest and most effective treatments, resulting in significantly higher cure rates.   

Know your family health history
If your family has a history of cancer, it can increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer. Inform your doctor so you can determine which types of screening tests or self-examinations you should be doing and how often.

Change your behaviour
Research tells us that up to one third of cancers are preventable through healthy life-style choices, including healthy eating, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.  Obesity and smoking are known risk factors for ovarian cancer.

Gynaecological oncologist Mr Dirk Brinkmann
says “Survival rates continue to improve as women become more aware of signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.  This leads to earlier diagnoses, when the overall survival rates are better”. Cancer Research UK says earlier diagnosis, specialisation of surgery and chemotherapy and other treatments are bringing significant improvements.  These welcome developments means that cancer patients are living longer and living well.