Shining light on February: Ovarian Cancer Awareness month

February 20, 2024

February marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and is dedicated to raising awareness and providing support for those affected by ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is a malignant tumour that grows in one or both ovaries and is the ninth most common cancer in Australia. According to Cancer Council Australia, it is estimated that each year, about 1720 Australians are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

While over 80 per cent of people diagnosed are over the age of 50, ovarian cancer can occur at any age and it can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages, as symptoms can often be non-specific or similar to those of other diseases.

“Unfortunately, at present, it is difficult to detect ovarian cancer early as symptoms tend not to develop until the cancer is more advanced. Symptoms can be vague and include persistent abdominal pain and bloating. If you experience any persistent new concerns, you should see your doctor in a timely manner,” said Dr Frances Barnett, Medical Oncologist, Northern Health.

Although further research is needed to fully comprehend the origins of ovarian cancer, currently, there are no targeted tests, screening procedures, or preventative measures available to mitigate the risk of ovarian cancer in women.

“Ovarian cancer is not as common as many other cancers including breast and bowel cancer. Some people with hereditary cancer syndromes such as BRCA, are at higher risk of ovarian cancer when compared to the average person, and these women are frequently advised to have their ovaries removed after completing their family to reduce their risk,’ said Dr Barnett.

Even though the only way to really prevent ovarian cancer is to remove your ovaries, this is not necessary for most women. According to Dr Barnett, “More important is general cancer prevention which can be done by eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, and having recommended screening tests for certain cancers (cervical cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer, and lung cancer, for those who smoke).”

Ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed by a combination of preliminary tests performed by a doctor, including a pelvic exam, radiological tests, blood tests and ultimately, a surgical biopsy.

For more information on ovarian cancer, visit the Cancer Council website.

Featured in the image: Dr Frances Barnett, Medical Oncologist.