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Do you know the signs and symptoms of the 'silent killer'?

A new campaign aims to raise awareness of the ‘silent killer’ ovarian cancer, which can be confused with other less serious conditions.

Pictured at the launch of the Ovarian Cancer Global Awareness Campaign today were Clare Keating, Blanchardstown, Dublin with Rachel Ireland, Cork City and Juliette Casey, Cork.
Pictured at the launch of the Ovarian Cancer Global Awareness Campaign today were Clare Keating, Blanchardstown, Dublin with Rachel Ireland, Cork City and Juliette Casey, Cork.
Image: Jason Clarke photography

DO YOU KNOW the signs and symptoms of the ‘silent killer’, ovarian cancer?

The first annual World Ovarian Cancer Day will take place on 8 May and its aim is to help raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms.

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynaecological malignancy in the western world, and is diagnosed annually in nearly a quarter of a million women globally. Sadly, it is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year and 70 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die within 5 years.

Ireland recently ranked 4th highest of 30 countries surveyed in terms of incidence rates, and has the highest mortality rate in Europe.

World Ovarian Cancer Day

Ovarian cancer is often called the ‘silent killer’, and remains very challenging, mainly because there tends to be a lack of awareness of symptoms and late stage diagnosis.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be confused with other less serious conditions such as gastrointestinal disorder, and this means the majority of patients are identified in the advanced stages. It is at this stage that the disease becomes more difficult to treat.

According to the organisers of World Ovarian Cancer Day, experts now believe it is the frequency and combination of symptoms that can help doctors distinguish between ovarian cancer and other conditions.

So if a woman experiences one or more of the following symptoms on most days within a three week period, they should discuss their concerns with their doctor:

  • Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
  • Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Needing to pass urine more urgently or more frequently

There can be other symptoms which also occur, including change in bowel habits, abnormal vaginal bleeding, fatigue, and unexpected weight loss or weight gain around the abdomen. However these are less helpful when a doctor is trying to determine whether or not ovarian cancer is the cause.

Dr Matt Hewitt, Gynaecological Oncologist, Cork University Hospital and a member of OvaCare’s medical panel, pointed out that unlike cervical cancer, there currently is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer.

Although ovarian cancer can be a deadly disease, if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage it can be treated effectively with surgery and chemotherapy, leading to survival rates of up to 90 per cent.

Rachel Ireland, co-founder of OvaCare, was sporting teal nail polish at the launch and said that teal is the recognised colour for ovarian cancer charity organisations worldwide. They hope that by wearing the nail polish, women will get their friends and colleagues talking about the disease and its symptoms.

World Ovarian Cancer Day is being promoted in Ireland by three ovarian cancer charities: OvaCare, Supporting Ovarian Cancer Knowledge (SOCK) and the Emer Casey Foundation.

Read: New lab that deals with cervical and bowel screening results officially opens today>

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