How can I tell it’s ovarian cancer?

Dr Sarah Jarvis talks to GPs about ovarian cancer for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, March 2014.

As a healthcare professional you probably hear more about cancers like breast or prostate cancer rather than ovarian cancer.

Although less talked about, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK.

Around 4,300 women die from the disease every year.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Persistent bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Persistent difficulty eating and feeling full quickly

Some women experience:

  • Back pain
  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Constant fatigue

Ovarian cancer symptoms are persistent - unlike irritable bowel syndrome, they don’t come and go.

If a woman aged 50 years or older presents these symptoms persistently or frequently – more than 12 times a month or over the last year, further action is quickly needed.

To keep track of a woman’s symptoms you can give her a symptoms diary so that she can record the frequency and severity of her symptoms.

You might also like to recommend she use our online BRCA Risk Tool to discover if her family history is putting her at risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Is it irritable bowel syndrome?

Ovarian cancer is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS is most prevalent in women in their 20s and 30s.

If a woman in her 50s shows new onset of these symptoms, it is unlikely to be IBS, and may be a sign that she has ovarian cancer.