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Target Ovarian Cancer – Five facts that could save your life

Target Ovarian Cancer is determined to dispel common myths about ovarian cancer as a continued lack of awareness could have serious implications for women’s health.
With four in ten wrongly believing cervical screening could detect the sixth biggest cancer killer in women,  these misleading myths must be dispelled to save more lives says charity

According to the charity, four in ten women commonly believe that cervical screening can detect ovarian cancer which it does not. And the symptoms of ovarian cancer – persistent bloating, abdominal pain, needing to wee more often and feeling full quickly – continue to be put down to other conditions such as the menopause or IBS.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths amongst women in the UK, and more needs to be done to ensure women are diagnosed early to save lives. Awareness and understanding of the symptoms is imperative to this. Helen Dickens, Deputy Chief Executive at Target Ovarian Cancer, said:

“Although progress has been made over the years, we need to see it accelerated. A woman diagnosed at the earliest possible opportunity has a better chance of surviving this devastating disease. March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and we want to empower women to get help quickly if they’re concerned.

“It starts with knowing the main symptoms – persistent bloating, abdominal pain, needing to wee more often and feeling full quickly. Knowing what’s normal for you. And knowing the facts about ovarian cancer.”

Research by Target Ovarian Cancer shows awareness of the disease remains concerningly low, and misconceptions prevail. This can lead to a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer, when the disease is harder to treat.

To dispel the myths, Dr Sharon Tate, Head of Primary Care Engagement at Target Ovarian Cancer, added:

“We need to be clear that ovarian cancer can be caught early, if the knowledge is there. Five things every woman needs to know are:

  1. The disease is not silent – there are key symptoms which are both persistent and occur frequently from the offset which may indicate you have ovarian cancer. These are: bloating, abdominal pain, needing to wee more often and feeling full quickly.
  2. Cervical screening does not detect ovarian cancer – go for your cervical screening when invited, but also be aware that this does not detect ovarian cancer. Get to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and if concerned, see your GP.
  3. Ovarian cancer doesn’t discriminate – you can have ovarian cancer at any age but post-menopausal women and those over 50 are at a higher risk. 
  4. You can get ovarian cancer even if you’ve had a hysterectomy – you may still have your ovaries, despite having a hysterectomy. If you ever had or have ovaries and experience the above symptoms, see your GP.
  5. A family history of cancer, on either side, is important – A common misconception is that hereditary ovarian cancer is only passed down the maternal line, this is not the case. You could be at high risk if you have two or more cases of breast and/or ovarian cancer in your family history.”

22 year old Caitlin McKean, from South Lanarkshire, knows more than anyone how knowledge is power. In 2022, at just 43 years old, her mum, Carol Watson, died from stage 4 ovarian cancer. In her memory, Cailtin and her family have committed to raising awareness of the symptoms, in the hope that more lives are saved. Caitlin said:  

“I don’t think any of us knew the symptoms of ovarian cancer, including mum. If we’d known the symptoms, and that ovarian cancer isn’t diagnosed through the cervical smear test, then maybe we would’ve had mum for longer than five years after she was diagnosed.” 

Target Ovarian Cancer is calling for national symptoms awareness campaigns, increased education of the disease and support for GPs, and improved access to treatment and support. You can find out more about the charity’s work, and how to support it, at: www.targetovariancancer.org.uk

During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the charity is determined to dispel common misconceptions of ovarian cancer. Join Target Ovarian Cancer in raising awareness by downloading the charity’s toolkit:  https://targetovariancancer.org.uk/get-involved/raise-awareness