It's the 5th most common female cancer but symptoms can be similar to other things such as IBS. The Lady Garden Foundation wants us all to be armed with this list to keep tabs on our health
It's Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and The Lady Garden Foundation, a charity that raises awareness and funding for gynaecological health and research, is on a mission to ensure our ladyparts are trending. And not just for today.
Ovarian cancer is often referred to as the ‘silent killer’. Its symptoms can be vague, similar to other conditions such as IBS, or even dismissed as hormonal changes due to perimenopause and menopause. For that reason, it's harder to catch early and by having a symptom checklist to hand – we've given you one to screenshot below – you could save your life or that of someone close to you.
According to the foundation, the disease claims 11 lives every day in the UK. It's the fifth most common cancer in women, after breast, lung, bowel and womb cancer.
“There’s a lack of knowledge or discussion about it, which keeps the symptoms below the radar,” said Jenny Halpern Prince, co-founder of The Lady Garden Foundation, when she joined Get The Gloss editorial director Victoria Woodhall for an Instagram live to highlight the condition (definitely worth a watch!).
The charity was set up in 2014 by a group of six friends, three of whom had lost their mothers to gynaecological cancers. Jenny herself had an abnormal smear in her early twenties.
They were determined to make the conversation about gynaecological cancers more mainstream. There are five of them and only five per cent of women can name them all, says Jenny. (In case you are wondering they are womb, cervical, vagina, vulva and ovarian). From the off, they wanted to use the kind of language that we actually use to talk about our bits.
Their catchy campaigns include 'check your bits like you check your tits' and 'don't fear the smear'. Co-founder Chloe Delevingne, sister of model Cara, even had a smear test live on TV to encourage other women to do it. Due to fear, and the pandemic, many of us are behind on our smear tests, which check for cervical cancer. In 2021, 30 per cent of people due to attend a smear test (aged 25-64) were not screened.
Dozens of women have posted under their hashtag #whatdoyoucallyours. If there's a fundraising dinner, The Lady Garden Foundation name their tables after the best suggestions. Take your seat at Lawrence of a Labia. Or even buy the 'Vajayjay' slogan sweatshirt, £60 or the 'Snoochie' when it comes back in stock.
There is good news. According to Cancer Research UK , if you’re diagnosed at an early stage, you have a 70 per cent chance of survival. To help women become alert to the symptoms The Lady Garden Foundation is compiling a checklist that may help you speak more confidently to your GP if you suspect something isn't right.
One of the most common symptoms is bloating, says Jenny which can be mistaken for IBS. "Bloating can be a really big misdiagnosis, because when you have got bloating you may be told that you have IBS. Or a discomfort in your tummy or a different bowel movement or pain during sex, those are all symptoms of ovarian cancer. We want to be able to arm people with a checklist that they can take to their doctor and say, 'you may be telling me it's this but actually, can we check all these things off?"
It's also a good idea to note down (in your phone diary or a paper version) what your symptoms are and when you experience them, which will also help your GP, too – especially if want to press for a referral for further investigation via pelvic or vaginal ultrasound for ovarian cancer or a CA 125 blood test (CA stands for cancer antigen).
Jenny has this advice: “My mantra is: if it’s different, make a GP appointment. No matter how small the change is.”
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer? Here's your checklist
Many women with a very early stage of ovarian cancer often don’t have any symptoms at all, says the Lady Garden Foundation. The symptoms may be very vague but can include:
* Feeling bloated (having a swollen tummy)
* Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
* Pain or discomfort in the lower tummy area and/or back
* Needing to pass urine more often or more urgently
* Changes in bowel habits
* Weight gain or weight loss
* Unexplained or extreme tiredness
The NHS also lists the following symptoms
* Bleeding from the vagina after the menopause
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, visit your doctor for a check-up, particularly if:
They are not normal for you
They are persistent
There are repeated episodes
They do not go away
For more details on what happens at a GP appointment if you have symptoms of ovarian cancer, go to this guide by Cancer Research .
The Lady Garden Foundation adds: "Remember, most women with symptoms like these do not have cancer. Your awareness of your symptoms is the first and most important step – early diagnosis can save lives." We're here for that.
If you follow one Instagram account this week make it @ladygardenfoundation . For regular news and updates on the 5 gynae cancers check out The Lady Garden Foundation. If you want to help them raise money, the charity is running a month-long virtual fitness challenge from 14 April. And you can join in with the 5k or 10k Lady Garden Run in Hyde Park, London on 14 May.