The ovarian cancer symptoms to watch out for

Ovarian cancer survivor Margaret Rose.
Ovarian cancer survivor Margaret Rose. 

For most women with ovarian cancer the symptoms will be more subtle and not too unusual.

Survivor Margaret Rose had been feeling tired and bloated for some time before her diagnosis 20 years ago. But it was excruciating pain that eventually drove her to the doctor.

"Women must listen to their bodies," she said, marking Teal Ribbon Day for ovarian cancer awareness. "I had a couple of months where I knew something was wrong with me.

"I was excruciatingly tired and I was getting this bloating. One day I just got a terrible pain, which was a lucky thing for me because it is a silent killer.

"You normally don’t get pain from it."

Statistics show that most women with the disease are diagnosed late, and only 43 out of 100 are alive after five years.

Around 1000 Australian women are expected to die from the disease in 2014.

That’s why Ms Rose, a property developer, is helping to fund promising research by Sydney’s Garvan Institute aimed at developing an early detection blood test.

"Being a survivor, I feel extraordinarily lucky, and I have a mission to try help in some way."

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Garvan scientist Dr Goli Samimi is making progress with her research but says a viable test is about 10 years away. "The message in the meantime is the importance of awareness and early detection," Dr Samimi says. "The symptoms are common in women, but it is worth being checked out if they persist, particularly if there is a family history of ovarian or breast cancer."

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Helen Zorbas has used Teal Ribbon Day to launch an awareness video, titled 'No One Knows Your Body Like You Do'.

"It’s important for women to be aware of the most common symptoms of the disease so they can identify and act on any persistent changes that are unusual for them," she said.

Ovarian cancer: fast facts

- The four most common symptoms of ovarian cancer are: 

  • abdominal or pelvic pain
  • increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  • needing to urinate often or urgently
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.

- Other symptoms can include: 

  • changes in your bowel habits
  • unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • bleeding in-between periods or after menopause
  • back pain
  • indigestion or nausea
  • excessive fatigue
  • pain during intercourse.

- If you have any of these symptoms, they are new and you have experienced them multiple times in one month, you can download a symptom diary from the Ovarian Cancer Australia website. This will help you monitor your symptoms, and you can then discuss them with your doctor. 

- There is no early detection test, and the Pap test does not detect the disease.

- Treatment usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. 

Learn more about ovarian cancer at ovariancancer.net.au.

Clifford Fram, AAP, with staff writers