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Cancer Research

Most women do not think they could identify ovarian cancer symptoms, research shows

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day.

MOST IRISH WOMEN are not confident that they would notice symptoms of ovarian cancer, according to new research commissioned by the Irish Network for Gynaecological Oncology (INGO).

The research, which was carried out ahead of World Ovarian Cancer Day, examined how widespread knowledge of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer were among women in Ireland.

Some 400 women in Ireland are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, with almost 300 deaths from the disease annually. It is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related death in Irish women.

The research found that while most women knew that persistent pain in the abdomen or pelvis could be a sign of ovarian cancer, just one in five (39%) were aware that regular difficulty eating was also a potential sign.

Other symptoms associated with ovarian cancer include bloating, an enlarged abdomen, passing urine more frequently than usual and feeling full quickly after eating.

More than three quarters of patients with ovarian cancer are diagnosed when the disease is at a late stage. This is partly due to the vagueness of symptoms and the similarity with other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

More than eight out of every 10 cases of ovarian cancer occur in people aged 50 years and older, so people in this age group should be especially alert for symptoms of ovarian cancer, the INGO said

To mark World Ovarian Cancer Day, the INGO has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and encourage women to contact and explain their symptoms to their GP if they are worried, as early diagnosis can save lives. The campaign emphasises the BEAT symptoms:

  • Bloating that is persistent and doesn’t come and go
  • Eating less and feeling full more quickly
  • Abdominal and pelvic pain you feel most days
  • Toilet changes in urination or bowel habits

The INGO said that if a woman experiences any of these symptoms for three weeks or more, she should contact her GP.

The campaign also seeks to dispel the myth that cervical screening detects ovarian cancer. The research found that while one in three women (34%) mistakenly believe that cervical screening checks for all five gynaecological cancers – ovarian, cervical, uterine, vulva and vaginal. In fact, it only checks risk for cervical cancer.

There is no standard screening test to pick up ovarian cancer in women who don’t have symptoms.

Karen Cadoo, a medical oncologist and cancer geneticist in St James’s Hospital, said: “Approximately 20% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a genetic reason for their cancer. This information can be important for their treatment for some women. It is also very important for their family members so that they can understand and reduce their ovarian cancer risk.”

Some 20 buildings across Ireland will light up in teal to mark World Ovarian Cancer Day.

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