This Sunday is the fourth World Ovarian Cancer Day. It is a worldwide event that has been held every year on the 8th May since 2013, and aims to increase awareness and understanding of the disease.
Around 7,000 women are newly affected by ovarian cancer each year. Of all the gynaecological cancers, ovarian has the poorest outcomes. This is because it is generally diagnosed when it has already reached an advanced stage. The biggest reason for this is that its symptoms tend to be vague – such as bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain and difficulty eating – and therefore do not worry people enough to make them see their doctor.
The good news is that when it is caught early the prognosis is much better, and there are several things that can be done to improve the chance of this happening.
The first is to know the symptoms and be able to recognise them. The ovarian cancer charity Ovacome has produced a great fact sheet that describes them clearly.
Ovarian cancer is associated with mutations in two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women with harmful variants of these genes have a much higher risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. Although it is possible to have a genetic test to examine these genes, this is not offered very often. A free alternative that is available to everyone is the online BRCA Risk Tool, developed by the charity Ovarian Cancer Action. By answering questions about family history it gives a rough idea of the likelihood of having a BRCA mutation. It must be stressed that this is not a definitive test and that you should seek advice from a medical professional if you have any concerns.
Finally, there are symptom trackers that can help to highlight any suspicious symptoms. Ovacome has produced an online tool called the BEAT Symptom Tracker, and the charity Target Ovarian Cancer has made a Symptom Diary mobile application that is available on Android and Apple devices. Either of these systems can be very useful for keeping an eye on low-level symptoms that are refusing to go away. Furthermore, as the information is always filled in at the time it tends to be very accurate, and this is invaluable for doctors.
There are lots of ways to get involved in World Ovarian Cancer Day, from fundraising walks to karaoke nights. To find events in your region, please visit the WOCD Map and see which local charities are participating.