March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately 6,600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK and around 4,400 die from the disease. It can affect women of all ages, but is notably more common in those who are post-menopausal – 8 out of 10 cases are diagnosed in women over 50.
Ovarian cancer survivor Della Lamden © Cancer Research UK
Jane Eyes spoke to survivor Della Lamden, and leading experts to learn more about the disease and what can be done to better identify and treat it.
Five years ago, Della Lamden was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer at the age of 42. ‘My stomach started to swell and at first I thought it was to do with my time of the month,’ Della said. ‘It wasn’t until I felt I was going to explode and looked nine months pregnant that I went to A&E.’
Doctors drained fluid from Lamden’s abdominal cavity and tests revealed she had high levels of ovarian cancer cells. The cancer had already spread from her ovaries into her stomach lining and liver.
Ovarian cancer can be treated successfully if spotted early and this is what makes increasing awareness so crucial. Women whose cancer is spotted in the early stages have survival rates of over 70 percent. Yet only about 40 percent of women with ovarian cancer in the UK live for more than five years after diagnosis. This is because it is extremely difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer at the crucial early stages – often there are no symptoms early on, or symptoms can be confused with other conditions.
‘The problem is that diagnosis is often made very late and the cancer has already spread in 80 percent of ovarian cancer patients by the time they see the doctor,’ said Jonathan Ledermann, a professor of medical oncology and the Director of Cancer Research UK and University College London Cancer Trials Centre.