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What are the early warning signs of ovarian cancer?

11 February 2019
Be alert, not alarmed. Recognise the signs.
Each year in Australia, more than 1,500 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Of those diagnosed, only 43% will survive more than 5 years - making it one of the deadliest cancers for women.

One reason ovarian cancer has such poor survival rates compared to other types of cancer is that it can often go undetected until it’s in the advanced stages. If caught early, about 94% of patients live longer than 5 years, but knowing how to recognise the early symptoms is key.

We caught up with Professor Anna deFazio, Head of the Westmead Institute’s Gynaecological Oncology Research Group and University of Sydney Chair of Translational Cancer Research to find out just what signs we should be looking out for and how to know when to act.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

  • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Needing to urinate often or urgently

Professor deFazio says, "An important thing to remember is that the symptoms of ovarian cancer on their own can be caused by other less serious medical conditions. It’s a combination of these signs and their persistence that can give a hint that you might have ovarian cancer.”

If you’re concerned, she recommends tracking your symptoms in a symptom diary developed by Ovarian Cancer Australia to share with your doctor.

How Sydney is working to change the prognosis

Outcomes for women with ovarian cancer are slowly improving but the 5-year survival-rate is still below 45%, according to the Westmead Institute.

Thanks to the research done over the last decade we now understand that one barrier to improving outcomes is that ovarian cancer is a highly complex disease, comprising of multiple distinct subtypes that vary considerably in their biological behaviour and response to standard treatments.

According to Professor deFazio, these new insights into tumour subtypes are heralding an end to the current “one size fits all” approach. She and many other University of Sydney researchers are pursuing this promise with their collaborators through a program called INOVATe  - Individualised ovarian cancer treatment through integration of genomic pathology into multidisciplinary care.

Read more about Professor deFazio's ovarian cancer research.

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