UCL News


Press cutting: Ovarian Cancer: The signs to look for

4 March 2007

Ovarian cancer, the fourth most common cancer in women, has been called the silent killer because the majority of cases are not diagnosed until an advanced stage when the disease has spread and the outlook is poor.

If it's treated early, the outlook is very good. Confusingly, however, the symptoms that occur at an early stage (which are still being intensively researched) tend to be very common problems, which affect many women at some point, and are not all gynaecological in nature.

Last March, I gave a list of these early warnings and some months later, I received an email from a reader thanking me for alerting her. The information had, she said, possibly saved her life because she went to the doctor, was diagnosed with early stage ovarian cancer and successfully treated. So, to mark this year's Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, here are the symptoms to take note of. Remember that, as Professor Ian Jacobs, Director of UCL Institute for Women's Health and Medical Director of the Eve Appeal says, 'in the vast majority of cases, this will not mean that a woman has ovarian cancer.

It's more likely to be an insignificant passing problem or related to a benign condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). But if several of the symptoms persist over weeks rather than days, occur frequently or become worse, it's sensible to consult your GP, who can then assess whether you should be referred for further tests.'

If you've been given treatment for a condition such as IBS and it doesn't settle down, Dr Usha Menon, Head of Gynaecological Cancer Centre at UCL, suggests asking your GP if it would be wise to have a blood test for the CA125 tumour marker and an ovarian scan.

Between five and 10 per cent of ovarian cancers have a genetic basis. If you have two or more close relatives on one side of your family with ovarian cancer, or one with ovarian and another with early breast cancer (under 50), discuss this with your doctor. You may be referred to a local genetics clinic to assess the risk.

The Mail on Sunday