March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and GPs, cancer specialists and survivors are encouraging women to visit their doctor if they suspect they could have the disease.
Cancer of the ovaries is one of the most common cancers among women with roughly 7000 women affected each year.
Around 4,200 women die of this disease every year in the UK (2018) which is 11 deaths each day.
This makes ovarian cancer one of the most fatal types as many women are diagnosed too late to be cured.
Although survival rates have improved over the last 20 years, experts at Liverpool’s Women’s NHS say gynaecological cancer is a challenge and there is still more to be done.
The Signs and Symptoms
During this annual awareness month for ovarian cancer, GPs are urging women to explore their symptoms.
“We are here for you”
Dr Cathy Hubbert, a local GP and Macmillan GP Cancer Lead at NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “Some patients may be too busy to go to see their doctor, may feel embarrassed, may worry about what the doctor might find, or worry about wasting the doctors time.
“But as GPs, we are here for you. It’s always better to get checked out.”
Warning signs of ovarian cancer are often similar to harmless or minor illness and that is where much of the challenge lies.
It is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) due to the similarity in side-effects.
Symptoms or signs include:
• Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly when eating
• Vague indigestion, nausea, bloating
• Swelling of the abdomen
• Pain in the lower abdomen
• Vaginal bleeding – although this is rare.
• Persistent bloating
• Unexplained weight loss
• Extreme fatigue
These issues are usually not the sign of something serious but GPs are advising that it is safer to check than to ignore the potential symptoms of cancer.
Ovarian cancer occurs more in women over the age of 50, and usually after menopause, but women of all ages can develop the illness.
Dr Hubbert said: “Every woman is different, and everyone has their own concerns and practical problems when they are diagnosed and treated for ovarian cancer.
“Services are set up to help and support women with ovarian cancer; to help manage the effects of treatment, and also to support and advise on practical matters.
“Speak with your doctor or nurse and tell them about your concerns; there is support out there.”
Support services in Liverpool
The Ovarian Cancer Liverpool Support Group at Blackburne House is there to support anyone with concerns and questions, about potential symptoms or post-diagnosis.
They run a support group called Evoc that meets five times a year.
Evoc hosts group activities including but not limited to: Tai’Chi, make-up classes, yoga and lymphedema care. Clinical Nurse Specialists also attend the sessions.
Suspecting you may have cancer symptoms can be scary and overwhelming but the practical and emotional support is there.
The NHS is still open
There is concern among GPs that Covid-19 has led to women not contacting their doctor with concerns. Dr Cathy Hubbert urged people to remember that the NHS is open and operating in Covid-safe ways.
She said: “With ovarian cancer, the signs and symptoms are not always well known. Campaigns help raise awareness and are a great way to share information with the public.
“The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the more likely treatment will be effective. Knowing what to look out for is important. So, if you have any symptoms, please make contact with your GP and get checked.”
Early diagnosis is the most crucial element of overcoming cancer and a GP practice should be the first port of call for anyone with symptoms.
If you need urgent medical help, use the NHS 111 online service or call the 111 helpline. If it is a serious or life-threatening emergency always call 999.
For more information on ovarian cancer visit the NHS website.