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Women's Healthcare Q1 2023

Risk of ovarian cancer: how to check and what to do

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Drazen Zigic

Helen Hyndman

Ask Eve Nurse, The Eve Appeal

The key signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are persistent bloating, feeling full quickly, nausea, abdominal or pelvic pain, changes to bowel habits and needing to wee more frequently.

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and at The Eve Appeal, the UK’s leading gynaecological cancer charity, we want to spread information that we think everyone should know about ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer diagnosis

Sadly, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed in the later stages when it is less treatable, as symptoms tend to appear once cancer has advanced or the symptoms are easily confused with other, less serious, conditions like IBS.

If you notice anything not normal for you, see your GP. It is probably something less serious than cancer, but it is always worth getting checked, just in case.

Inherited risks for ovarian cancer

Some ovarian cancers are caused by an inherited risk factor. We all receive half of our genes from our father and half from our mother. Sometimes, there is a change (or alteration) on one of these genes that increases the risk of certain cancers developing.

If one of your parents has a gene alteration, there is a 50% chance that you will have it, and if you have one, there is a 50% chance that each of your biological children will.

Having one of these inherited risks doesn’t mean you have or will get cancer, but it does mean you would have an increased risk of it developing compared to the general population.

Some ovarian cancers are
caused by an inherited risk factor.

Diagnosis or ruling out cancer

Around 10–20% of ovarian cancers are caused by an alteration on the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes, and some are caused by Lynch Syndrome.

BRCA gene alterations increase the lifetime risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer, and Lynch Syndrome increases the risk of bowel, womb and ovarian cancer (and others but to a lesser extent).

Knowing your family history when it comes to cancer and the cancers which can be linked to genetic factors can help you determine whether you might be at an increased risk yourself and if you might be eligible for genetic testing.

If you have a strong family history of the cancers listed above, do speak to your GP about testing.

Finding out you are at an increased risk of certain cancers can be a lot to take in, but it does offer some opportunities to help reduce your risk of some of the cancers or detect them as early as possible — when they are most treatable.

We have plenty of information on our website about ovarian cancer and inherited risks:
We also run a free and confidential nurse information service on [email protected] or 0808 802 0019.

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