In light of a recent news article, it is important to raise awareness of the incidence of ovarian cancer in young women and symptoms to be aware of. The article shares the story of a 14 year old girl called Kelliyah, who first thought her severe abdominal pain was the result of too many fizzy drinks and a lack of exercise. She lived with her symptoms for weeks before going to hospital where doctors found a tumour weighing over 5kg. Kelliyah is now in remission and can still have children but must have check-ups every three months for the next five years and she faces the possibility of premature menopause.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women and approximately 7,500 new cases are diagnosed every year in the UK. Women between the age of 55 and 64 fall within the category for the highest rate of diagnosis and 80% of cases diagnosed affect women over the age of 50; however, because of this, there is a risk that ovarian cancer could be overlooked as a cause of symptoms in younger women.
Cancer Research UK reported that there were 4,227 deaths from ovarian cancer in 2016. In England and Wales, nearly half of women will survive for five years or more after diagnosis. Survival rates are better for younger women where the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage but unlike cervical or breast cancer there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. Symptoms such as bloating, loss of appetite, pelvic or abdominal pain and urinary problems can be easily thought of as general ill health, making ovarian cancer harder to diagnose. Women with ovarian cancer have been misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, anaemia or diverticulitis. It is to be hoped that raising awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms amongst women below the age of 50 and amongst medical professionals can reduce the risk of misdiagnosis.
Misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis can have serious implications. There are long-term side effects caused by ovarian cancer including problems with menopause, sexual problems and infertility. The treatment required is dependent on the stage of the ovarian cancer. If the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, where it is only in the ovaries, it is likely that surgery is the main treatment. The surgery can involve removing both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, the womb and the omentum (a layer of tissue in the stomach). If the cancer has spread from the ovaries and into the pelvis, lymph nodes or other organs, chemotherapy will also be required, unless the cancer stage is too advanced. As the ovarian cancer advances, there are reduced treatment options and the surgery becomes more extreme.
As early diagnosis of ovarian cancer can lead to better outcomes it is important that medical professionals are alive to the possibility that a patient's symptoms may be caused by ovarian cancer and make appropriate referrals and examinations.
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The rate of ovarian cancer diagnosis in women under the age of 25 in the UK increased by 85% between 1993-95 and 2014-16 but total numbers are still low - there are about 140 cases a year. Ben Sundell, from the Teenage Cancer Trust, says: "In ovarian cancer, low suspicion can be compounded by the fact that is a particularly rare cancer amongst this age group and can be hard to detect because the symptoms are often similar to those associated with a period."