Would you spot ovarian cancer?

Posted 25 Mar 2021

Date: 25 Mar 2021

Author: Ruth Grigg

To mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Ruth Grigg, Patient Information Manager at Ovacome Ovarian Cancer Charity, shares the signs and symptoms that healthcare professionals can look out for.

With no screening programme, it is up to women themselves to identify the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer – which are sometimes mistaken for IBS, and other less serious conditions. Ovacome, the ovarian cancer charity, shares its straightforward guide to symptoms to promote earlier diagnosis and better outcomes.

We all want to promote good health, and health professionals work hard to persuade their patients to attend screening appointments and other check-ups. This is especially important right now as fewer people are coming forward due to COVID-19 effects on services.

Unlike breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel cancer, there is no screening programme for ovarian cancer. Getting a timely diagnosis depends on people recognising their symptoms and visiting their GP – who may not recognise the symptoms themselves.

"There is no screening programme for ovarian cancer...and a GP in an average sized practice will see a patient with ovarian cancer once every four years."

Ovarian cancer is uncommon – with about 7000 people diagnosed every year. It is usually diagnosed in older women who sometimes mistake their symptoms for those of the menopause, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or simply getting older. But it can affect younger women too and it can run in families.

A GP in an average sized practice will see a patient with ovarian cancer about once every four years, so it is unlikely to be their first thought. These factors may explain why ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late; most women are diagnosed at stage three when it has spread.

The symptoms can mimic much less serious conditions and people can experience several symptoms at the same time, so it is vital that health professionals assess them together and consider a possible single cause.

The BEAT campaign

Ovacome has been helping people since 1996 to identify symptoms and come forward to get the care they need. We are a support and information charity that stands alongside those affected by ovarian cancer.

We run a successful campaign which makes it easy to remember and understand the most common signs and symptoms. It is the BEAT campaign.

  • B is for bloating which is persistent and doesn’t come and go
  • E is for eating difficulty and feeling full more quickly
  • A is for abdominal and pelvic pain you feel most days
  • T is for toilet changes in your urination or bowel habits.

If you recognise any of these symptoms in your patients then the guidance is to carry out further tests.

More information is available on the NICE website.  Tell your patients, family and friends about BEAT. You can order BEAT materials for your workplace and find out more on Ovacome's website.