Ovarian cancer: Can it go unnoticed?

Written by: Dr Angela George
Edited by: Aoife Maguire

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often very difficult to detect and as a result, ovarian cancer is often refered to as ‘the silent killer’. This is because patients do not tend to have any symptoms until a very late stage.


If people do get symptoms, the most common ones are abdominal distension and swellling of the abdomen.


Can ovarian cancer go unnoticed?

Generally, ovarian cancer goes unnoticed until the later stages. This is because there are not many symptoms with the early stages.


As a result, around 70 to 80% of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed at late stages. Those who are diagnosed at an early stage are usually diagnosed by accident when they are being tested for other things.


How can people check for ovarian cancer?

It is possible to detect ovarian cancer early but the difficulty with detecting ovarian cancer at an early stage is because the symptoms are quite unspecific. Due to this, it is hard to tell people what to look out for with any certainty.


In addition, things such as screening, which have been undertaken for other cancers to try and pick them up at early stages, have not been shown to reliably detect ovarian cancer at an early stage. This means that there are not reliable tests that doctors can tell people to get as a routine as they would, for example, with breast screening, in detect ovarian cancer at an early stage.


How is ovarian cancer treated?

For the majority of patients, ovarian cancer will be treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Ovarian cancer is one of the cancers where chemotherapy can make a massive difference in terms of both people’s symptoms and their outcomes.


Increasingly, doctors are looking at maintenance treatments. These treatments usually involve tablets, which doctors give to patients after they have completed chemotherapy and surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back. This treatment also makes a huge difference to people’s outcomes.


Is it possible to live a full life after ovarian cancer?

It can be possible to live a full life. The difficult thing is that ovarian cancer is almost always picked up at a late stage and there are people that doctors cannot cure from ovarian cancer, unfortunately. However, because the treatments are continually improving, they can help patients to survive for many years with ovarian cancer.


If the cancer is picked up at an early stage it is most definitely curable. It can be detected at an early stage and many doctors have had numerous patients whose ovarian cancer has been picked up at an early stage. This is particularly common if there is an underlying inherited component, in which case doctors can discharge the patient after ten years with the knowldege that they will live an ongoing cancer free life.



If you are concerned about your ovarian health and would like to schedule a consultation with Dr George, do not hesitate to visit her Top Doctors profile today.

By Dr Angela George
Medical oncology

Dr Angela George is a consultant medical oncologist in gynaecology and practices at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, London. She attends to both private and NHS referrals at her clinic, specialising in treatment of gynaecological cancers such as ovarian and endometrial with a particular focus on the use of genomic information in treatment.

Her specialist knowledge surrounding genomic profiling and use of mutational information and inherited cancer syndromes assists Dr George in guiding her treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital, where she is also clinical director of genomics. Furthermore, her oncogenetics practice takes in testing for inherited cancer syndromes.

Dr George began her training in medical oncology in New Zealand, moved to the Royal Marsden Hospital and undertook additional training in oncogenetics at the Institute of Cancer in London. It was here where she was awarded the Chairman's Prize for her thesis in ovarian cancer genetics.

Her genomics expertise saw her implement the Mainstreaming Cancer Genetics programme, which ran from 2013-2018. Her work has been adopted across the UK and across the world. The programme involved the introduction of genetic testing into the routine care of patients with ovarian, breast and pancreatic cancers and the current programmes have expanded into multiple tumour types.

Further to her industry-leading work, Dr George is the Cancer Clinical Lead of the North London Genomic Medicine Service and co-chairs the molecular tumour board. She also is involved in the National Cancer Research Institute gynaecological cancers group, the Precision Medicine working group for the European Society of Medical Oncology and the British Society of Genetic Medicine (BSGM). Dr George is the principal investigator at The Royal Marsden for multiple international trials and her research, particularly in cancer genomics and targeted treatments, has featured widely in various books and peer-reviewed publications.

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