Know Ovarian Cancer and the Signs and Symptoms

Back to blog

At Eve Health, we are committed to raising awareness about ovarian cancer – the most common cancers effecting women in Australia. It is important women of all ages know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer because an early diagnosis and treatment leads to a greater chance of survival.


What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA) describes it as “a disease where some of the cells in one or both ovaries start to grow abnormally and develop into cancer.”  The cancer can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

There are three types of ovarian cancers:

  • Epithelial tumours (the most common type accounting for 90% of ovarian cancers), which affects the surface layer of the ovary.
  • Germ cell tumours, which begin in the egg cells of the ovary (accounting for about 5% of ovarian cancers).
  • Sex cord-stromal tumours

It is also possible to have borderline epithelial tumours which are sometimes called “low malignant potential” tumours. Recent research suggests many ovarian cancers start in the fallopian tubes.


Who can get ovarian cancer?

About 1800 women are diagnosed each year in Australia. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age. 64 is the average age at diagnosis, and though it mainly affects those over 50, there are still cases in younger people.


What is the survival rate of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer remains the deadliest women’s cancer in Australia and is the eighth most common cancer. Unfortunately, only 29% of women diagnosed at a late stage are alive five years after their diagnosis. If a woman is diagnosed in the first stage, (while the cancer is still localised) her survival rate is more than 90%.


What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer can be similar to other conditions which makes it difficult to recognise. Some commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain, pressure or discomfort
  • Increased abdominal size
  • Persistent abdominal bloating
  • Need to urinate often or urgently
  • Excessive fatigue or lethargy
  • Feeling full after only eating a small amount / appetite loss

Other symptoms may include:

  • Changed bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Indigestion
  • Irregular periods
  • Bleeding in-between periods
  • Post-menopausal bleeding.

There are factors other that may increase a women’s risk for developing ovarian cancer including their age, medical history, family history and parity.


How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

There is no standard screening test like there is for cervical or breast cancer. For this reason, it is important women contact their doctor if they experience any abnormal symptoms or are concerned.

A GP will perform tests to decide whether a person’s symptoms are due to ovarian cancer or other causes.  Tests may also include a blood test, an ultrasound and an internal vaginal examination.   If any tests cause suspicion, the GP will refer patients to a gynaecologist or directly to a specialist in women’s health and cancer – a gynaecological oncologist.  Further tests with the gynaecological oncologist may include:

  • A computerised tomography (CT) scan
  • Removal of ascites (fluid from your abdomen)
  • Laparoscopy/laparotomy to enable tissue samples to be taken for testing in the laboratory

For women awaiting test results, it can be an anxious time, so it is helpful to ask when results are due back. Speak to your GP if you would like to know about any other supportive resources. There is also an Ovarian Cancer Australia support member available to speak to during business hours on 1300 660 334.

If you are not comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis or you are still concerned about unexplained persistent symptoms, seek a second opinion. You know your body better than anyone else, so listen to what it is saying and follow your instincts.


How is ovarian cancer treated?

Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves surgery and chemotherapy or a combination of both. It can also include radiotherapy. Treatment depends on the stage and grade of cancer. The Cancer Council has comprehensive booklets and fact sheets about treatment options



Comments are closed.