Ovarian cancer: early warning signs

Every year, around 1400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and over 900 will die, so it pays to know the early warning signs to stay one step ahead of this silent killer.

To this end, scientists have studied the DNA of around 100,000 people, including 6000 Australian women with ovarian cancer.

Their studies revealed 12 new genetic drivers that can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

A woman’s genetic make-up accounts for about a third of her risk of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer begins in a woman’s ovaries, with around 90 per cent of ovarian cancers beginning on the outer covering of the ovaries. Once some of the cells in one or both ovaries grow abnormally, the trouble begins.

There are three types of ovarian cancer: epithelial ovarian cancer is the one that begins in the outer cells that cover the ovary and accounts for around 90 per cent of all cases; germ cell ovarian cancer starts in the cells that produce ova, or eggs; and stromal tumours occur in the structural tissues that cover the ovary and help to produce estrogen and progesterone. Stromal tumours can affect women of all ages.

So, what are the symptoms?

Symptoms tend to be noticeable and will worsen over time. These include:

  • abdominal pressure, swelling or bloating
  • pelvic or abdominal pain
  • persistent indigestion or nausea
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite or feeling full after a small meal
  • increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • persistent fatigue
  • lower back pain
  • having to urinate often and urgently
  • unexplained weight gain or loss.


If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms over a period of weeks, you should seek the advice of a health professional.

For more information about ovarian cancer, including help kits and forums, please visit ovariancancer.net.au

Related articles:
Trial could fund cancer breakthrough
Health and family genetics
Health checks and when to have them

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