It’s the diagnosis no woman wants to hear, but unfortunately thousands of women across Australia hear four devastating words every year: You have ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the sixth-leading cause of death for Aussie women, with 60 per cent of those diagnosed over the age of 60. The disease is often referred to as a silent killer because symptoms can be difficult to detect, often going unnoticed until the cancer reaches a later stage.
Jim Coward, medical oncologist at Icon and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Queensland, explains that many patients dismiss warning signs as symptoms of less-serious health concerns.
“It’s very difficult to give definite symptoms for ovarian cancer,” he says. “A lot of the symptoms that may be signs of ovarian cancer are ignored because they’re associated with other innocent things.”
Some of the most common symptoms include, bloating, changes in bowel habits, feeling full after eating small amounts of food, abdominal discomfort and weight loss.
Esther Clemens from Sefton, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and treated at Icon Revesby, New South Wales, said she initially didn’t believe doctors when they broke the news to her. She had never been sick before and health professionals shocked her when they picked up the cancer after she was admitted to hospital to remove a build-up of fluid on her lungs.
“It wasn’t until I’d seen an ultrasound that it all sunk in. He put the ultrasound up on the wall and I said, ‘what’s that? What’s that big thing?’ And he said, ‘that’s your tumour’.
Ovarian cancer presents in different ways and in cases like Esther’s there may not be any noticeable symptoms. The best way to detect ovarian cancer and increase chances of survival is through early detection and paying attention to changes in your body that persist. As with most types of cancer, doctors have a series of standard tests to help detect the disease in its early stages. These commonly include abdominal ultrasounds, transvaginal ultrasounds and blood tests.
If you’re one of the 1,500 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, your doctor will likely suggest surgery and/or chemotherapy as your best treatment options.