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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month 2016

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    A blog to raise awareness of ovarian cancer – reported to be the biggest gynaecological killer of UK women, with UK survival rates amongst the worst in Europe.

    By Rebecca Callard

Target Ovarian Cancer is the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity. Their focus is to achieve earlier diagnosis, fund life-saving research and provide support to women with ovarian cancer. They have set up this programme each year with the hashtag #StartMakingNoise in a bid to get individuals to raise awareness by shouting about their symptoms at an earlier stage because early diagnosis saves lives.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

The ovaries are a pair of small organs in the female reproductive system that contain and release an egg once a month. This is known as ovulation. Ovarian cancer is cancer arising from the ovaries.  There are different types of ovarian cancer affecting different parts of the ovaries. Epithelial ovarian cancer, which affects the surface layers of the ovary, is the most common type.

The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown, but certain factors are thought to increase a woman’s risk of developing the condition, such as genetics, age (it is most common in women aged over 50) and the number of eggs the ovaries release.

Why is raising awareness important?

Perhaps, somewhat frighteningly, ovarian cancer has been named the “silent killer” because of the fact that the symptoms are often dismissed or ignored and so unfortunately, in many cases, once an individual goes to see their GP and/or gets a referral to a specialist and is diagnosed, the cancer has already spread, making successful treatment difficult, and survival rates much lower.

The NHS Choices website explains that the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise, especially in the early stages. The reason for this is because the symptoms are worryingly the same as other less serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or menstrual syndrome, more widely know as PMS.

The 3 main symptoms to look out for are:

1. Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating;
2. Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain; and
3. Difficulty eating/ feeling full quickly or feeling nauseous.

As a result, it is easy to see why, if women are not made aware of this dangerous disease, the above symptoms could be wrongly misinterpreted. Therefore, the purpose of the #StartMakingNoise Campaign and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is to bring these symptoms to the forefront of women’s minds in order to encourage them to get checked regularly and to treat any symptoms with utmost seriousness.

What can you do?

You can #StartMakingNoise by visiting Target Ovarian Cancer’s fundraising page and getting involved with some of the fundraising activities to increase funding for the distribution of information leaflets, training for GP’s on what to look out for and medical research.  The website also provides very useful information on symptoms, and guidance for women with concerning symptoms as to what to do, including how to report symptoms to their GP, and what investigations and treatment are likely to then follow.

Alternatively, you can make noise via social media using the hashtag #StartMakingNoise throughout March 2016 (and beyond) to make sure that all women are aware of this deadly disease and to ensure that it no longer lives up to its name, the “silent killer.”

My colleagues and I in the Clinical Negligence Team are fully supportive of the Target Ovarian Cancer campaign this month, and ongoing.  Unfortunately, we have represented women who have suffered a late diagnosis of ovarian cancer due to failures in medical care, and, as confirmed by the statistics reported by Target Ovarian Cancer, have seen how late diagnosis can lead to a significantly worse prognosis.  Increasing awareness of symptoms, for both patients and doctors, is vital to try to ensure diagnosis at the earliest time and hopefully improving the UK’s survival rates for this cancer.

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