RESEARCH recently commissioned by the Irish Network for Gynaecological Oncology (INGO) has highlighted that 79% of women in Ireland are not confident they would notice a symptom of ovarian cancer.
Ireland has one of the highest death rates from ovarian cancer in Europe.
Approximately 400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year here and almost 300 women die every year.
It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in women in Ireland, after lung, breast, and colorectal cancer.
Early diagnosis can significantly improve survival.
Bernadette Quinlan was diagnosed with the disease after experiencing an intermittent pain in her lower abdomen.
‘I was sure it was a kidney infection,’ said the mum-of-three from Ballincollig.
An initial scan did not show up anything, however a few months later she developed persistent bloating.
‘It just felt like there was a lot of fluid in my stomach, so much so that if I turned in bed I could almost feel the fluid moving,’ she recalls.
This was in July 2020. A scan, and follow up tests confirmed Bernadette had stage 3 ovarian cancer.
‘It was not something I had been expecting but at the same time it was a relief to know what was wrong,’ she said.
Her treatment started straight away and involved six sessions of chemo, but because only some cancer responded to this, she also had to have a hysterectomy, and further medication.
Diagnosed at 62, she’s now 64, is in remission and is feeling good. Her daughters are aged 31, 35 and 36 and she has encouraged them all to be extra vigilant for any potential symptoms.
‘In my case it was persistent bloating, and it’s quite possible that you’ll only have a single symptom, or that they will be insignificant until it gets to a late stage,’ she said.
‘Awareness is the main thing,’ she stressed.
The INGO recently launched an awareness campaign around the BEAT symptoms. These are:
• Bloating that is persistent and doesn’t come and go
• Eating less and feeling full more quickly
• Abdominal and pelvic pain you feel most days
• Toilet changes in urination or bowel habits
The clear message is that if you experience any of these symptoms for three weeks or more, you should contact your GP. The campaign also seeks to dispel the myth that cervical screening detects ovarian cancer.
Donal Brennan, Professor for Gynaecological Oncology at UCD and Academic Lead of the UCD Gynaecological Oncology group, the Mater Misericordiae and St Vincent’s University Hospitals, said: ‘Cervical smears are not used to detect ovarian cancer. There are no accurate tests and that is why we want people to be aware of the BEAT symptoms.
‘If the symptoms persist for three weeks or more you must contact your GP.
‘It is also worth checking out www.thisisGO.ie as there is lots of information and very helpful resources there.’
Dr. Sharon O’Toole, Senior Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin added: ‘There is no screening test for ovarian cancer but we all can be more symptom aware.’
She pointed out that the symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be confused with irritable bowel syndrome.
‘We need to get the BEAT message out there so women know that if they experience any of the symptoms for three weeks or more, they should contact their GP,’ she said.