Ovarian cancer in women has been referred to as the silent killer as the symptoms are ones that many women experience from time to time. They tend to be less serious and similar to many other common problems women experience. However, if these symptoms are NEW for you and have persisted daily for two weeks or more, it is time to take action. Early detection can save your life. The Statistics
- Each year 1,200 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer; on average 800 will die
- On average 3 Australian women are diagnosed every day
- In 2014 ovarian cancer was estimated to be the ninth most commonly diagnosed cancer in females in Australia
- In 2013, there were 949 deaths from ovarian cancer in Australia. In 2016, it is estimated that this will increase to 1,040 deaths.
- In 2012, the risk of a woman being diagnosed with ovarian cancer by her 85th birthday was 1 in 82. The current estimate is 1 in 77.
- From 2007 -2011 in Australia, women with ovarian cancer had a 43% chance of surviving for 5 years
Unfortunately, by the time most women are diagnosed, their cancer is at an advanced stage and difficult to treat successfully. Over half of the women diagnosed will not live longer than 5 years after diagnosis. However, if ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rate after 5 years is up to 95%. Early diagnosis is crucial.
Symptoms Women Should Be Aware Of
There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer, so all women need to be aware of the symptoms. The most commonly reported symptoms for ovarian cancer are:
- Abdominal or pelvic (lower abdominal) pain – ongoing pain in the abdomen or pelvis is a clear sign that something is wrong. This is a symptom for both ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts. Any pain that does not go away after a couple of days should be taken very seriously.
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating – this is also a symptom of many other health issues. The swelling is the result of fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity, a symptom that usually occurs later as the disease progresses
- Needing to urinate often or urgently – increase urination is usually due to increased abdominal swelling putting pressure on the bladder. Unfortunately, this symptom often delays diagnosis as it is attributed to bladder problems
- Feeling full after eating a small amount – interestingly, women with ovarian cancer will feel full faster and will have difficulty eating as much as usual. This is most likely due to a disruption of hormones
- Changes in bowel habits – Any change in bowel habits, whether it be constipation or diarrhea, could be a sign of ovarian cancer
- Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods – Spotting can be linked to several different health issues, not just ovarian cancer. Any abnormal bleeding should be mentioned to your doctor. It is not normal and may be linked to serious reproductive health issues
- Unexplained weight gain or loss – unintentional weight gain or loss unexpectedly may be a sign and warrants a visit to your doctor
- Lower back pain – lower back pain may indicate an advanced stage of the disease
- Indigestion or nausea – may be due to swelling of the abdomen or indicate an advanced stage of the disease
- Excessive fatigue – fatigue may be due to many causes not just ovarian cancer
- Pain during sex or bleeding after sex – may mean that the cancer has grown outside of the ovary
If you experience any of these symptoms and they are new and have persisted on a daily basis for some time, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Please note these list of symptoms is not intended to cause concern among women. Most women with these symptoms will NOT have ovarian cancer. Your doctor should first rule out more common causes of these symptoms. If there is no clear reason for your symptoms, only then does your doctor need to consider the possibility of ovarian cancer. What to do if your doctor dismisses your concerns? As a naturopath I never assume that any case is simple. I always rule out other possibilities: “What else may it be.” A case from my clinic serves as an excellent example: In brief: Miss T, a 30 yo female presented primarily for heavy menstrual bleeding. She was prescribed herbs and supplements to help relieve the heavy monthly bleeding and to increase iron levels together with dietary advice. I strongly recommended that she see her GP for some bloodwork, specifically to check on her iron status. Approximately a month later she returned to report that her last period was not as heavy as previous months. However, she was feeling tired, lacked energy and felt light headed as if she was going to pass out. The visit to her GP did not go well, as the GP felt blood work was unwarranted. I encouraged her to seek another GP that would order the tests. Approximately, three weeks later I get a call from her sister saying that Miss T had fainted and was not feeling well. I recommended that she take her immediately to the emergency department of the local hospital. Initial blood work showed that she was severely anaemic. Haemoglobin was 3.0 (the trigger for blood transfusion in hospital is 10.0) and she had an immediate transfusion to increase her haemoglobin to adequate levels. She was referred for additional assessment as to the cause of her heavy blood loss. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer and immediately underwent treatment. The cancer was treated and the prognosis for this young woman is good. So if your doctor is dismissive and is telling you not to worry about it, what are your options?
- If you are not satisfied with your doctor’s explanation for your symptoms, seek a second opinion
- Make a list of your symptoms and concerns prior to your appointment
- Make sure to mention if there is any family history of ovarian, breast, colon or endometrial cancer as your risk of ovarian cancer may be increased
- You can use an ovarian symptom diary to help list possible symptoms and present them to your doctor
Recent development for Naturopaths requesting pathology tests by a patients doctor This month the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) sent a letter to all doctors recommending GPs say no to any requests from Naturopaths for further investigation of their shared patients. Given this situation, it is up to the discretion of your GP whether to order the tests or not. A covering letter from the Naturopath with a solid rationale for testing is often useful. Naturopaths are still able to order tests through a pathology laboratory; however, patients are out of pocket for the cost of the tests.