Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – March 2016
Ovarian cancer is the biggest gynaecological killer of UK women, with UK survival rates the worst in Europe. Three quarters of women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread, making treatment more difficult. That is why the CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department is again this year supporting Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and working with the Ovarian Cancer Charities and NHS to raise awareness. Awareness is so important, to drive forward improvements in detection, treatment and ultimately survival. Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month takes place in March 2015 and the Ovarian Cancer Charities in the UK are all working to increase awareness of the disease, with women and GPs, in order to save lives.
Ovarian cancer can be a challenging disease to recognise and diagnose and many women will wait over six months for a correct diagnosis. When they receive their diagnosis the majority of women in the UK will have advanced disease which can be difficult to treat. Target Ovarian Cancer is the national ovarian cancer charity working to save lives and help women diagnosed live their lives to the full, wherever they live in the UK. They highlight the issues every March with Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
The ovaries are a pair of small organs in the female reproductive system that contain and release an egg once a month. This is known as ovulation. Cancer of the ovary can spread to other parts of the reproductive system and the surrounding areas, including the womb (uterus), vagina, abdomen and chest.
How common is ovarian cancer?
Cancer of the ovary affects more than 7,000 women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year (this is roughly 135 women each week) in the UK each year and sadly over 4,000 women lose their lives each year. The UK has amongst the lowest ovarian cancer survival rates in Europe. It is the fifth most common cancer among women after breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and cancer of the uterus (womb). Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have had the menopause (usually over the age of 50), but it can affect women of any age.
Why is early diagnosis so important?
Most women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread which makes treatment more challenging. The current five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 43%. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, up to 90 per cent of women would survive five years or more3. This is why early diagnosis is so important. Research has shown that just 3% of women in the UK are very confident about recognising a symptom of ovarian cancer. Delays in diagnosing ovarian cancer are not uncommon. Women sometimes delay seeing their GP, and GPs sometimes do not recognise the potential importance of the symptoms women report5.
As the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to those of other conditions, it can be difficult to recognise. However, there are early symptoms to lookout for, such as persistent bloating, pain in the pelvis and lower stomach, and difficulty eating. For Women who experience these symptoms, particularly over a long period of time, it is important to see a GP.
Can ovarian cancer be confused with other conditions?
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often similar to those of other less serious but more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome. However the increased frequency and persistency of the symptoms are what help to distinguish between ovarian cancer and other conditions. It should be noted that women over the age of 50 rarely develop irritable bowel syndrome, and should a GP think this is the case, they should make sure they have considered other causes such as ovarian cancer7.
What increases the risk of someone developing ovarian cancer?
The two most important aspects affecting a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime are age, and family history. The risk of ovarian cancer does increase with age, and particularly after the menopause. Over eight in ten cases will occur in women who have gone through the menopause. Most cases of ovarian cancer are ‘sporadic’ or one offs. This means that close female relatives of someone with ovarian cancer do not necessarily face an increased risk of developing the disease themselves. However in around one in every ten cases, a family link can be identified. If a woman has two or more close family relatives with a history of ovarian cancer, or ovarian cancer and/or breast cancer then she should discuss her family history with her doctor. Both sides of a woman’s family (mother and father) should be considered.
Types of ovarian cancer
There are several types of ovarian cancer. They include:
epithelial ovarian cancer, which affects the surface layers of the ovary and is the most common type
germ cell tumours, which originate in the cells that make the eggs
stromal tumours, which develop within the cells that hold the ovaries together
Epithelial ovarian cancer is by far the most common type of ovarian cancer. This information concentrates on epithelial ovarian cancer. The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, although a number of possible factors are thought to be involved, such as the number of eggs the ovaries release and whether someone in your family has had ovarian cancer in the past. However, only one in 10 cases of ovarian cancer has a genetic link.
Treating ovarian cancer
The best treatment for ovarian cancer depends on several things, such as the stage of the cancer and general health. Treatment will usually involve a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. As with most types of cancer, the outlook largely depends on how far the cancer has advanced by the time it is diagnosed and the person’s age at diagnosis. Ninety per cent of women diagnosed with early stage one ovarian cancer will be alive in five years’ time (the five-year survival rate). Being diagnosed with ovarian cancer can affect daily life in many ways. However, there is support available for many aspects of living with ovarian cancer, including emotional, financial and long-term health issues.
Ovarian cancer screening
There are methods of screening for ovarian cancer but, at the moment, they are not yet fully tested. Screening is only available for women who are at high risk of developing the disease due to a strong family history or inheritance of a particular faulty gene. Clinical trials in the UK are currently assessing the effectiveness of screening in high-risk women and in the general population. A cervical screening test (smear test) cannot detect ovarian cancer.
A lack of awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms among both women and health professionals can contribute to delays in diagnosis.
Only 3% of women in the UK know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Many women believe the myth that ovarian cancer is a ‘Silent Killer’.
Half of all women confuse ovarian cancer with cervical cancer.
Women with ovarian cancer often experience delays in getting a diagnosis.
Encouragingly, research has shown that ovarian cancer is not a ‘silent killer’ and that there are symptoms that women can look out for. As yet, there is no national screening programme for ovarian cancer like the breast and cervical screening programmes. It is vital that women develop better awareness of symptoms and have the confidence to ask their GP to ‘rule out’ ovarian cancer.
‘Target Ovarian Cancer’
Target Ovarian Cancer is passionate that all women and health professionals are aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. The Charity is working throughout the year on projects to raise awareness of symptoms, here are a few examples.
GPs: Target Ovarian Cancer commissioned BMJ Learning and RCGP e-Learning, leading providers of educational resources for health professionals, to develop a series of online learning modules that will radically alter GP’s understanding of ovarian cancer. The modules are free for all GPs to access. Over 6000 GPs have already completed the modules.
Pharmacists and women: Target Ovarian Cancer has been working closely with pharmacy chains including Superdrug, Rowlands and Morrison’s to raise awareness of symptoms among pharmacists and women in the general public. Over 100,000 symptoms leaflets have been circulated as part of this campaign.
Occupational Health professionals: Target Ovarian Cancer has developed a programme of activities that occupational health professionals can access to update their knowledge and that of their colleagues on ovarian cancer.
‘Let’s Talk’ awareness programme: Is for individuals who want to use their experience of ovarian cancer to raise awareness of symptoms. ‘Let’s Talk’ includes a booklet packed with awareness raising tips and ideas and day courses at venues across the country.
What you can do to help
It’s great that you are thinking about helping Target Ovarian Cancer raise awareness of symptoms. A woman has a 1 in 50 chance of developing ovarian cancer in her life. By letting 50 women know about the symptoms, you will be giving one of these women the chance to have an early diagnosis – which gives her the best chance of having a long and good life. Raising awareness of ovarian cancer can be as simple as circulating or handing out copies of our symptoms awareness leaflet to all your members.
Target Ovarian Cancer 2 Angel Gate London EC1V 2PT
Tel: 020 7923 5470 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.targetovariancancer.org.uk
To receive news and updates from ‘Target Ovarian Cancer’ please sign-up for the Newsletter via e-mail or post to register your details by going to:-
http://www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/useful-links/newsletter-sign (You can also read previous Newsletters here).
NHS Ovarian Cancer Websites for further information are:-
Ovarian Cancer – NHS ‘Be Clear On Cancer’:- http://www.nhs.uk/be-clear-on-cancer/ovarian-cancer
Ovarian Cancer – NHS ‘Choices’:- http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-ovary/Pages/Introduction.aspx
See attached Ovarian Cancer Information, Awareness and Guidance Leaflets for further detailed information.
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Guide
Ovarian Cancer Information Leaflet
Ovarian Cancer Quick Guide
Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Leaflet
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer
Email Attachments – Click to download
· 16LTB164 Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – March 2016.doc
· Ovarian Cancer Awareness Guide (Target Ovarian Cancer).pdf
· Ovarian Cancer Information Leaflet (NHS).pdf
· Ovarian Cancer Quick Guide (Cancer Research UK).pdf
· Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Leaflet (Target Ovarian Cancer).pdf
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