Ovarian cancer: the deets

How much do you really know about the cancer that affects 1400 Aussie women yearly?

By Rebecca Sloan
ovarian cancer

February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and, with 1400 Australian women being diagnosed with the disease each year, it’s a cause we at Cosmo are fully behind.

So what exactly is ovarian cancer?

“It’s a malignant tumour in one or both ovaries; the causes are unknown,” says Annabel Davies, Manager of Communications and Awareness, Ovarian Cancer Australia.

However, she explains that there are some factors that put women at higher risk such as age, endometriosis and the use of hormone therapy replacement (HRT). It’s most common in older women (over 80 percent of women diagnosed are aged over 50), but it’s never too soon to be educated.

What can you do now?

Well, you can get to know your family history. “There’s a familial link which can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are known links,” says Davies. These are also the genes linked to breast cancer – you may remember Angelina Jolie talking about having the BRCA1 gene? Her mother actually died from ovarian cancer.

The signs to look for

As the symptoms of ovarian cancer are often “vague” it helps to know whether you’re at higher risk and to be aware of persistent symptoms, especially since there is no early detection test.

“The most common is abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or bloating, the need to urinate more often or urgently, and feeling full after eating a small amount,” says Davies. “Other symptoms to look out for are changes in bowel habits, bleeding after menopause or in-between periods, unexplained weight gain or loss, lower back pain, nausea and excessive fatigue.”

What else should you know?

If any of these symptoms are persistent, you should visit your GP for a blood test and internal ultrasound. If these tests come back abnormal, you’ll be referred to a gynaecological oncologist.

The only way to accurately diagnose or confirm ovarian cancer is through surgery. “Many women still mistakenly believe a Pap smear can be used to determine the presence of ovarian cancer, however, this is used to diagnose cervical cancer only,” says Davies.

If you have any concerns or questions, contact Ovarian Cancer Australia on 1300 660 334 or visit