PSA: it’s crucial that we know as much as possible about our own bodies, even the parts we can’t see.
Ovarian Cancer Day (on 8th May) encourages us to reflect on the miracle of a female reproductive system, and the importance of making sure each one is healthy.
According to research, GPs and people with ovaries (usually cisgender women) are still ignoring ovarian cancer symptoms, despite an increase in awareness of the illness, a UK charity has warned. Charity Target Ovarian Cancer investigated this year how aware the UK is of the disease and its symptoms – and it’s not reassuring.
Their data suggests that awareness of the key symptoms of ovarian cancer is too low, with only one in five people knowing that bloating is a symptom. While two-thirds of those surveyed knew that tummy pain is a symptom, “hardly anyone” knew that feeling full quickly or needing to wee more urgently can be a symptom of the disease.
Worryingly, the survey also found that 40% of UK women think cervical screening (a smear test) can detect ovarian cancer, which is not the case.
Annwen Jones OBE, the Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “These figures are incredibly disappointing. We know we’ve shifted the dial in the past 10 years, through the dedication of thousands of Target Ovarian Cancer’s campaigners. But it is not enough.
“Knowing the symptoms is crucial for everyone. We need to make sustained and large-scale government-backed symptoms campaigns a reality.”
Katy Stephenson, from Bury St Edmunds, was diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer in 2021. She said, “I had been experiencing symptoms like bloating and needing to wee more urgently for a few months, but I’d put it down to being peri-menopausal.
“I had a fluke diagnosis when I was admitted to hospital with appendicitis. If that hadn’t happened, the cancer probably would have spread, and I hate to think about what would have happened.
“I was actually told that I wouldn’t have symptoms in the early stages of ovarian cancer – but I did. I want everyone to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer. The only person that will catch them is you, so be aware of your own body, speak to a GP. And don’t be afraid to mention ovarian cancer if you’re worried.”
Dr Victoria Barber, a GP in Northamptonshire and advocate for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the primary care community added, “Symptoms do appear early on in ovarian cancer, and your GP wants to hear from you if you’re experiencing any of them, if they are new for you and if they do not go away.
“Similarly, it’s vital that GPs are knowledgeable on ovarian cancer and know how to advise patients who have concerns. Target Ovarian Cancer has a GP education programme that can help you do this.”
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Target Ovarian Cancer identifies the following symptoms of ovarian cancer to be aware of: