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| 10/03/2021

Being Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer

Cancer is something that affects a large number of families each year across the UK. While it takes its toll and represents a significant challenge in life, treatments and support for patients are constantly improving the situation for those who’re diagnosed, with the main message being – you are not alone.

Around 7,000 women are diagnosed with cancer of the ovary each year, and for those who receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis it can feel like nothing can prepare you for that moment. We’ve put together some useful information to help you understand your position from day one to help arm you with the right knowledge.

How do you detect ovarian cancer?

The first step to understanding your diagnosis is grasping how ovarian cancer is detected in the first place. There are a number of common symptoms of ovarian cancer you can experience, such as:

  • Feeling constantly bloated or having a swollen tummy
  • A discomfort or pain located in your pelvic area
  • Loss of appetite or a consistent “full” feeling when having only small amounts of food
  • Frequently needing urgent visits to the toilet

In addition to these symptoms, there are other indicators of ovarian cancer but can also be linked to other diagnoses:

  • Vaginal bleeding (post-menopause)
  • indigestion or nausea
  • A dramatic shift in your bowel habits
  • Chronic fatigue levels
  • Pain or discomfort during sex
  • Unintentional weight loss

Whenever ovarian cancer, or any type of cancer, is a potential diagnosis relating to your symptoms, it is an understandably distressing situation. If you think that you have any of these symptoms persistently over three or four weeks, then the best thing to do is contact your doctor. Any or all of them might not mean an ovarian cancer diagnosis, but it’s always best to be sure.

How does a doctor detect ovarian cancer?

Your doctor will perform an examination and potentially refer you to a specialist (gynaecologist), but if they believe your symptoms are due to ovarian cancer then they’ll recommend a blood test to detect a substance called CA125.M

This substance (CA125) is produced by ovarian cancer cells, meaning that a high level of this substance could be a significant indicator – but it can also be due to other conditions such as endometriosis and pregnancy.

If your blood test gives reason to suspect you may have ovarian cancer, then your doctor will arrange for you to undergo an ultrasound scan. This will allow doctors to get an image of your ovaries which can reveal any abnormalities. There are a range of additional tests your doctor may suggest which can also be used to corroborate your diagnosis.

Receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis

When you get a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, you’ll also be told what “stage” and “grade” it is to provide additional detail about your cancer. Although your doctor won’t know the exact stage your cancer is at until it has been removed via surgery, your test results will be used to give the best estimate possible. This may seem somewhat daunting but it’s important for you to be given as much information as possible so you can understand your situation and what treatment can be offered.

The stage of ovarian cancer ranges from Stage 1 (affecting one or both ovaries) to Stage 4 (spreading to other parts of the body from the ovaries), while the grades range from Grade 1 (more likely to grow slowly) to Grade 3 (more likely to grow quickly).

This detail about your cancer will allow your doctor to get you the right treatment as soon as possible so you can start your process without delay.

Treatments for ovarian cancer

When deciding what the right treatment for your cancer is, your doctor will review both the stage and grade whilst also taking any other health factors into consideration. The healthcare professionals handling your case will use this information to create a treatment plan and support you throughout your treatment.

Usually, the most common form of treatment for ovarian cancer is to remove the cancer directly whilst also using chemotherapy to reduce the spread of the cancer cells.

Surgery to remove ovarian cancer can involve (depending on how advanced the cancer is):

  • 1 or both ovaries and the fallopian tube (if only your ovaries need to be removed, then you may still be able to have children later in life)
  • The womb via hysterectomy
  • The omentum, a layer of fatty tissue from your tummy

Surgery would need to be performed under general anaesthetic with a few days in hospitals afterwards to allow you to undergo your initial recovery, before transitioning home for your full recovery period. Your care team will be able to give you a full breakdown of timings for your recovery and things to avoid, but as a general outline:

  • You will likely need to take between 1 and 3 months off work
  • You probably won’t be able to drive for at least a month
  • You might need to avoid any heavy lifting or intense exercise for a period of at least 3 months

Support for those with ovarian cancer

Hearing the diagnosis is one of the hardest parts of going through ovarian cancer. There are many support groups for cancer patients and help for those going through ovarian cancer you can get in contact with, such as Cancer Research UK and Macmillian Cancer Support, to help you understand what comes next.

The first thing you’ll probably want to do is talk to those close to you – friends, family and general loved ones. Asking immediate family and close friends for assistance with things can help you feel more supported as well as shouldering the difficulties with you.

You’ll also need to notify you place of work as you will likely have a number of appointments booked in before you start your treatment which you’ll need to make time for. If you’re having difficulty with this, then get in contact with one of the main UK cancer charities for advice and guidance on how to handle the situation.

Ramsay Health Care and Oncology

Our private hospitals are equipped to handle all cancer screenings for ovarian cancer and diagnostic procedures, with the capacity to handle your cancer care needs every step of the way. We’re here to offer you support and reassurance during the diagnosis phase and help make your treatments run as smoothly as possible. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to know how our consultant in the oncology department can be of assistance.

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