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Ovarian cancer largely misdiagnosed

This Sunday, 8th of May is ‘world ovarian cancer day’, a campaign that aims to educate individuals about the disease. Ovarian cancer is the biggest gynaecological killer of women in the UK, with UK survival rates amongst the worst in Europe. Three quarters of women are diagnosed at a later stage, often meaning that the cancer has spread, making treatment more difficult. With 4,300  women dying from ovarian cancer each year, it is the fourth most common cancer death in women, after breast, lung and bowel cancer with approximately 135 women being diagnosed each week. 

Professor Omer Devaja, Consultant Gynaecologist at London Bridge Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK is keen to raise awareness among women, especially those who are aged 60 and over. 
Professor Devaja comments on the factors impacting the likelihood of developing the disease: “The factors that would indicate a higher risk would be if you have more than one close relatives with the breast or ovarian carcinoma, which may potentially affect you in the future, A significant number are attributed to a genetic predisposition with the mutation in the BRACA 1 and 2 genes. Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are not very obvious or specific to the disease and this is why this disease is called the “silent killer”. Such symptoms include: 
  • Increased abdominal size 
  • Persistent bloating 
  • Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain 
Professor Devaja continues, “These symptoms are also common with unrelated conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Ulcerative Colitis. If the patient notices any of these symptoms I would suggest they consult their GP, and if appropriate, their GP would consider arranging an ultrasound scan with a specific blood test (CA 125 and CA 19-9) in order to exclude ovarian cancer.. 
“There has been some evidence that the oral contraceptive pill has some protective affect over the disease but that’s not to say that doctors recommend the pill to prevent ovarian cancer. The theory behind this is that if you have fewer ovulations, then you have less chance of genetic changes in the ovary, leading to development of ovarian carcinoma. In addition, women who are undergoing stimulation of the ovaries as treatment for infertility can have an increased risk of a certain subgroup of ovarian tumours.”
Professor Devaja provides insight on the treatment options for women with ovarian cancer: “The options are surgery, as well as chemotherapy. If the cancer is diagnosed in the early stage (stage 1) then over 80 per cent of patients will survive the disease. But the problem is that almost 60 – 70 per cent of patients are diagnosed at a later stage; stage 3 and 4. The survival rates will then fall to 20 – 30 per cent and this is due to the more advanced stage at presentation as a result of the nonspecific symptoms of this disease.”
Like most cancers, ovarian cancer is more successfully treated when caught at an early stage resulting in the much higher survival rate. Professor Devaja urges that women consult with their GP or specialist if they have concerns about any symptoms they are experiencing, or have significant family history of ovarian and breast cancer.