Ovarian cancer has often been referred to as a ‘silent killer’, but new preliminary findings from an Australian study show the disease is in fact not silent – these latest data show most women (83 per cent) experience at least one symptom of ovarian cancer in the year prior to their diagnosis.
The study also revealed 17 per cent of women waited more than three months after the onset of their symptoms before visiting their doctor, with 8 per cent waiting more than six months.
“The most common reason for the delay was an assumption that the symptoms were not serious, with many women attributing them to another medical condition or the natural process of ageing,” said Dr Helen Zorbas, CEO, National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre.
The study by National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre in collaboration with the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, examined the pathways taken by 1500 Australian women to their diagnosis of ovarian cancer, strengthening the case for women to be aware of the symptoms of the disease.
“As there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, the first step to diagnosis is a woman identifying symptoms which are persistent and unusual for her and seeking medical attention. It is therefore vital that women are aware of the symptoms to look out for,” said Dr Zorbas.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- abdominal bloating
- abdominal or back pain
- appetite loss or feeling full quickly
- changes in toilet habits
- unexplained weight loss or gain
- indigestion or heartburn
The most common symptoms, experienced by half of the study participants, were abdominal symptoms such as fullness and pain. Bloating, bowel or urinary symptoms were reported by approximately one third of participants.
“We know many women will experience these symptoms as part of everyday life,” said Dr Zorbas. “But if any of these symptoms are unusual for you and they persist, it is important to see your doctor. No one knows your body like you do.”
This year about 1300 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Australia. More than half of women diagnosed do not survive five years after their diagnosis. More than 70 per cent of women are diagnosed at an advanced stage, where the cancer has spread and is difficult to treat successfully.
February 2009 is Australia’s first Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. For more information visit www.nbocc.org.au
National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre is funded by the Australian Government and works with consumers, health professionals, cancer organisations, researchers and governments to improve care and cancer control in breast and ovarian cancer.
Queensland Institute of Medical Research coordinates the Epidemiology core of the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study. The Australian Ovarian Cancer Study is a collaborative research program between clinicians, scientists, patients and advocacy groups aimed at improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of ovarian cancer.