Bloated belly could mean cancer

Bloated belly could mean cancer

Feeling bloated and having a tender abdomen is a common problem for women. But what if it’s nothing to do with menstruation or menopause – and is a sign of something more sinister?

Many women don’t recognise the symptoms of ovarian cancer, says Annabel Davies, chief operating officer of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, to be held in February 2012. Instead, they dismiss them, attribute them to something else, or feel uneasy but don’t seek medical advice for fear of not being taken seriously.

‘The four symptoms are having unexplained abdominal or pelvic pain; having an increased abdominal size or bloating, needing to urinate often and urgently, and difficulty eating or feeling full quickly,’ says Annabel.

‘Women tend to look after everyone but themselves, and particularly because ovarian cancer affects women more over the age of 55, the symptoms can be put down to the menopause or just being tired.

‘What we say is that if these symptoms are new for them, and experienced consistently for two weeks or more, go to the doctor to get them to rule out ovarian cancer.

‘The majority of ovarian cancer cases, or 70 per cent, are diagnosed at the late stage, so it’s important that women are diagnosed at an earlier stage so they can be treated properly. We find that outcomes are better if treated earlier.

‘With the kind of symptoms that often present with ovarian cancer, women might not want to go and visit their GP because they tend to think it’s not serious.’

Awareness of the disease is slowly improving through initiatives such as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and its major event, Teal Ribbon Day, which will take place on February 29 this year, Annabel told PSi.

A ‘KISS’ campaign – Know the Important Signs and Symptoms – will be launched on Valentine’s Day, February 14.

Women can also learn about their risk of ovarian cancer, Annabel says.

‘Risk factors include being 55 or older, and ovarian cancer rates are higher in women who’ve had few pregnancies, and who’ve never taken the oral contraceptive pill.

‘We think pregnancy and contraception must give the ovaries a rest.

‘Being a smoker, having a high-fat diet, like most cancers being overweight, and also being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are risk factors.

‘One in 500 women have the inherited genetic fault which increases the risk of ovarian cancer, but in the Ashkenzai Jewish population it’s one in 50. They’re more susceptible to breast or ovarian cancer, so it’s very important to be aware that they’re at greater risk.’

She urges pharmacy assistants to visit and learn about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, and pass the information on.