The ovarian cancer symptom women are ignoring

ovarian cancer symptoms, bloating
The ovarian cancer symptom women are ignoringGetty Images

It's so important for women - and anyone for that matter - that we know as much as possible about our own bodies and what it's trying to tell us, as it can urge us to seek the right help and support on time. But new research from charity Target Ovarian Cancer has revealed women are overlooking serious cancer symptoms - one of which is persistent bloating.

Bloating happens in a lot of people, but often it's dismissed as 'normal'. We tend to treat it as an inconvenient side effect of eating too much or put it down to an IBS symptom. Of course, the majority of bloating cases won't turn out to be a symptom of cancer - but on the off chance it were, any delay in diagnosis is concerning.

Target Ovarian Cancer reveals that less than 2 in 10 women (17%) would book an urgent GP appointment (within a week) if they experienced regular bloating. That's in contrast with other, more 'well known' cancer symptoms, such as an unexplained lump, or a mole that has changed shape, where more than 50% of women would get them urgently checked out.

young woman having stomach problems, holding hands on tummy

Around 7,400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, and before the coronavirus, two thirds of women (66%) were found to have been diagnosed late, which increases the chance of the cancer having spread, and can make it harder to treat. When you consider this, it makes it even more imperative to seek medical advice about newly occurring symptoms - even if they are fairly common, like bloating.

Target Ovarian Cancer's research from 2018 also highlighted that women are more likely to try eating probiotic yoghurts or amending their diets in a bid to stop rather than heading to their GP. "A probiotic yoghurt should not be preventing a woman from visiting the GP promptly if something is worrying her," the charity's chief executive Annwen Jones said at the time.

"Women should not be risking their lives because of the enduring awareness gap around the symptoms of ovarian cancer. If women know ovarian cancer symptoms such as persistent bloating and are able to link them to ovarian cancer early on, lives will be saved."

Dr Alison Wint, GP and Clinical Lead for Cancer, said: "It’s important to come forward with urgent cancer symptoms such as persistent bloating, feeling full quickly or loss of appetite, tummy pain, needing to wee more often or more urgently, change in bowel habits or weight loss. Take it seriously and talk to your GP."

ovarian cancer, ovaries
Getty Images

Talking to Cosmopolitan UK, 33-year-old Fiona recalled persistent bloating as one of the symptoms she experienced ahead of her ovarian cancer diagnosis. But initially, she dismissed it as anything of concern. "When I first got the IBS symptoms, I wasn’t too concerned. I went to the doctor, cut down on gluten, cut out wheat, came off dairy and tried lots of different options to try to tackle it," she said.

It was only months later, when nothing she tried made any difference and her symptoms worsened, that Fiona sought advice from a doctor and received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

What are the other ovarian cancer symptoms?

Along with regular bloating, there are a number of other ovarian cancer symptoms that might equally be presumed as minor and nothing to worry about, but it's important to be aware of them. Three key ones are:

  • Needing to urinate more frequently

  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain (your tummy and below)

If you're suffering from any of the above, put your mind at ease and visit your GP. It might well be nothing, but there's always a small chance it could be something more serious, in which case you'll be so much better off having addressed it early.

Find out more about the symptoms of ovarian cancer here.

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