The causes of ovarian cancer are not yet completely understood. The risk of developing ovarian cancer is very low in young women and increases as women get older. More than 8 out of 10 (80% of) ovarian cancers occur in women over the age of 50.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to symptoms caused by other, more common, conditions.
These conditions may include:
- feeling bloated (having a swollen tummy)
- feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
- pain or discomfort in the lower tummy area and/or back
- needing to pass urine more often or more urgently (feeling like you can't hold on)
- changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
- pain during sex
- weight gain or weight loss
- unexplained or extreme tiredness.
Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be mistaken for symptoms of other non-cancerous conditions, there can be sometimes be a delay in diagnosis.
To help make sure women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed as early as possible, there's a recommendation from the NHS guidance body NICE(National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). It recommends that if a woman has the following symptoms and they last for a month or more, or occur on at least 12 days in a month, she should see her GP to be checked for ovarian cancer:
- Feeling bloated (having a swollen tummy).
- Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite.
- Pain or discomfort in the lower tummy area and/or back.
- Needing to pass urine more often or more urgently (feeling like she can't hold on).
NICE also says that if a woman over 50 develops symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as bloating and changes in bowel habit, she should be offered tests by her GP to check for ovarian cancer. This is because it's unusual for a woman of this age to develop IBS if she hasn't had it before.
Most women with the symptoms listed here won't have ovarian cancer, but it's important to get them checked out.
*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support