Ovarian cancer affects annually 6,700 women in the UK and 12 women die every day from this deadly form of gynaecological cancer. At the moment – just like breast cancer 20 years ago – not enough is known or understood about the causes of ovarian cancer. It is suspected that – in young women – the cells of the ovary do not repair themselves after ovulation. However, 95 per cent of the cases are found in post-menopausal women – so what is happening in these cases?
A friend of mine has ovarian cancer. While carrying out a hysterectomy, her gynaecologist made the decision – with the best of intentions – to leave a small piece of ovary so that she would not crash straight into the menopause. Some 20 years later, this tiny piece of ovary became cancerous and it is proving extremely difficult to eradicate. After the first bout of chemotherapy all seemed fine but, some months later, the cancer returned and she is undergoing a second series of chemotherapy and can do no more than keep her fingers crossed.
March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and three of the specialist cancer charities are working hard to raise women’s awareness of the symptoms. If this cancer is caught early enough there is a good survival rate but far too often women are embarrassed to pay a visit to their doctor or – as the condition is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be confused with irritible bowel syndrome – unless the GP has a special interest in gynaecological cancers, ovarian cancer is placed at the bottom of the list of potential diagnoses. All of which means that, by the time the cancer is diagnosed, it is at Stage II and, therefore, much harder to treat.