Ovarian cancer – is it lurking in the aisles?

by Louise Bayne, Chief Executive, Ovacome: the ovarian cancer support network

The middle-aged woman with abdominal symptoms such as bloating, discomfort or gastric disturbance is an everyday visitor to community pharmacies.

She has ovarian cancer, but doesn’t know it yet.  She’s visited primary care many times, but has received a misdiagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome or recurrent UTI, and has decided to self-medicate with treatments bought from pharmacies.  

How can you help her?

A good start would be to take a look at the RPS quick reference guide on ovarian cancer during March, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  The guide is part of the Society’s work to help improve the early detection of cancer and will make you aware of the signs and symptoms for women in the at-risk group of the over 50s. 

The key symptoms to look out for are:

• Bloating that is persistent and does not come and go
• Difficulty eating and feeling full more quickly
• Abdominal or pelvic pain that is experienced most days

These symptoms are frequently experienced by women and may well not be cancer.  However, when they are experienced frequently, persistently and severely, the likelihood of ovarian cancer increases. Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynaecological cancer in the UK and is diagnosed in over 6,800 women a year.  Every year around 4,400 women die of the disease, that’s about 12 every day.

Raising awareness and talking to patients about symptoms of ovarian cancer really can save lives because it can result in earlier diagnosis and better treatment options. Currently, only 15% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed before it has spread to other parts of the body.

To further support Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, you could also:

Display a BEAT ovarian cancer poster available from Ovacome 0845 371 0554 support@ovacome.org.uk  You can also refer any patients with concerns about symptoms to the handy symptom tracker on the site.