by CATHERINE NGUYEN
Ovarian cancer is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer among females in Australia, with about a 46% chance of surviving for 5 years after diagnosis. The chance is much higher at 94% when found early, but only around 20% of ovarian cancers are discovered at an early stage.
Unfortunately, there is no standard screening test available for ovarian cancer unlike some other cancers. As such, it is critical to be aware of the symptoms and warning signs of ovarian cancer and see your doctor if you experience anything new or abnormal.
Sandra Fenton, an ovarian cancer survivor, cannot emphasise this enough. She put her early symptoms down to stress of the move from New Zealand back to Australia and adjusting to the change in climate. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had spread from her ovaries through her stomach lining and into her lungs. Sandra is now cancer free, but is keen to share her experience to help others.
She says, “No matter what your age, don’t ignore changes and symptoms or make excuses for them. Go to your doctor. Never think that you’re wasting the doctor’s time with a minor concern. We women need to overcome embarrassment about seeing a doctor for women’s health issues. We need to talk about these things.”
She also wants to address some misconceptions women might have about ovarian cancer, including family history or screening. “It’s not in my family history or genetics – we did a test. Just because it’s not in your family doesn’t mean you’re safe. And you can’t pick it up with a Pap smear [now a cervical screening test].”
Sandra’s family also encourages others to pay attention to changes in their loved one’s health and urge them to see their doctor about symptoms.
The most common warning signs for ovarian cancer are:
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
- Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain, pressure or discomfort
- Feeling full after eating a small amount
- Needing to urinate often or urgently
Other symptoms include:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Excessive fatigue or lethargy
- Lower back pain
- Indigestion or nausea
- Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
- Pain during sex or bleeding after
It is important to note that these symptoms may be caused by a much less serious condition than cancer and are not cause for panic. You should pay attention and see your doctor if these symptoms persist, or if any of them are experienced multiple times during the 4-week period.
Ovarian Cancer Australia recommends tracking your symptoms in a symptom diary, and seeking a second opinion if you are not satisfied with your doctor’s diagnosis or if you are still concerned about unexplained persistent symptoms.
According to Ovarian Cancer Australia:
“You know your body better than anyone else, so always listen to what your body is saying and trust your instincts.”
Tiffany, another ovarian cancer survivor, agrees, “Ladies, there is no test for ovarian cancer. Until these awesome researchers come up with one, we have to know our bodies!”
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She lost both her father and her husband to cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.