Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: The signs and symptoms to look out for

Woman with ovarian cancer symptom. (Getty Images)
Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late, but early diagnosis can mean it is more treatable. (Getty Images)

This Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, many are on a mission to help improve knowledge of the disease and most importantly, the outcomes for those affected.

This includes charity Ovarian Cancer Action, which has set the goal of transforming survival rates, partly by spreading the word about possible symptoms. Getting potential signs checked promptly can help with being diagnosed early, at a stage when it's more treatable.

At the moment, figures show only three in 10 diagnosed with the disease will live beyond 10 years but it doesn't need to be this way. In fact, the charity hopes to ensure that by 2032 at least half of those with ovarian cancer will live for a decade.

So, here's what you need to know about the signs and symptoms to watch out for...

Read more: Ovarian cancer sufferer urges getting checked: 'I'm a nurse but ignored my symptoms'

What is ovarian cancer?

Woman holds in his hand Teal ribbon. Symbolic for cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, gynecological cancer and PCOS, sexual assault awareness. Women's health care. Banner
Anyone with ovaries can get the cancer. (Getty Images)

Ovarian cancer affects the two small organs (ovaries) that store the eggs needed to make babies, according to the NHS.

While anyone can get the disease, it mostly affects those over 50, and can sometimes run in families.

The trouble is that as symptoms are not always an obvious sign of cancer – like bloating – it is often diagnosed late.

The health service points out, however, that early diagnosis can mean it is more treatable.

Read more: Hailey Bieber has cyst 'size of an apple' on her ovary: Signs and symptoms of ovarian cysts

Ovarian cancer symptoms

Infographic of ovarian cancer, q, types, symptoms and how to prevent it and its corresponding icons.
While they may not be anything serious, symptoms of ovarian cancer should always be checked out. (Getty Images)

Only one in 10 women know the main symptoms of ovarian cancer, according to Ovarian Cancer Action.

A key sign of the disease is that you may have certain symptoms frequently, for roughly 12 or more times a month. As per the NHS, these include:

  • a swollen tummy or feeling bloated

  • pain or tenderness in your tummy or the area between the hips (pelvis)

  • no appetite or feeling full quickly after eating

  • an urgent need to pee or needing to pee more often

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • indigestion

  • constipation or diarrhoea

  • back pain

  • feeling tired all the time

  • losing weight without trying

  • bleeding from the vagina after the menopause

While these symptoms are common and may be a sign of something harmless, or another condition, it's important to get them checked by your GP to increase your chances of successful treatment, should you need it.

Read more: UK's four most common cancer types – the signs and symptoms to be aware of

Ovarian cancer causes

The risk of developing the disease increases with age – more than half of all UK cases are aged 65 and over.

Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, including women, trans men, non-binary people and intersex people with ovaries. If you've had surgery to remove your ovaries, then of course you can no longer get it.

There are a few factors that may mean you have a higher chance of getting ovarian cancer. These include if you:

  • inherited a faulty gene, such as the BRCA genes (related to cancer) or those linked to Lynch syndrome (genetic predisposition to bowel cancer)

  • had breast cancer or bowel cancer

  • had radiotherapy treatment for a previous cancer

  • have endometriosis or diabetes

  • started your periods at a young age or went through the menopause late (over 55), or have not had a baby – may mean you’ve released more eggs (ovulated more)

  • have never used any hormonal contraception, such as the pill or an implant

  • are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

  • are overweight

  • smoke

There are certain lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your risk of ovarian cancer, including quitting smoking, being a healthy weight, and talking to your GP about possible tests or treatments (like a hormonal contraception or removing your ovaries) if ovarian cancer runs in your family.

Ovarian cancer treatments

If you are diagnosed, treatments will depend on the size and type you have, where it is, if it has spread and your general health. The main treatments for ovarian cancer include surgery and chemotherapy, while others include targeted medicines and hormone treatments.

But don't worry, the NHS emphasises that the specialist care team looking after you will explain the treatments, benefits and side effects, work with you to create a treatment plan that's best for you, and talk to you about how it may affect you, like any side effects.

Read more: The different types of breast cancers as 'Dear Deidre' Sanders shares diagnosis

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As well as spreading knowledge of symptoms, Ovarian Cancer Acton has plans to help develop ground-breaking new treatments and ensure women are able to access the best care and information regardless of age, ethnicity, or location.

To help give yourself the best possible outcome, don't delay in speaking to a doctor if you experience signs of ovarian cancer frequently.

You can also join the charity's online community of walkers each taking on 100km throughout March. Sign up to take part in the Walk in Her Name challenge here.

For information visit this NHS webpage on treatments – including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and more – and this page on help and support services.