Ovarian Cancer Awareness Is 'Woefully Low'—Here Are the Symptoms to Look Out For

Experts have warned of a "woeful" lack of awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer after a study revealed two thirds of women had never heard of the disease before they were diagnosed.

Research by the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition showed two-thirds of women diagnosed with the condition did not know about it before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of the condition include abnormal bleeding and discharge from the vagina, particularly in those post-menopause; pain in the back, abdominal and pelvic region; as well as feeling bloated and full quickly after eating. Needing to pee more often or feeling constipated could also be related to ovarian cancer.

Around 239,000 women worldwide are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and less than half will live another five years. According to what the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition described as a conservative estimate, one in six women (40,000) will die three months after they are alerted they have the disease.

What's more, rates of the condition are predicted to spike to 55 percent by 2035 as efforts to tackle mortality rates have been slow compared to other cancers, the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition highlighted. Investigating attitudes towards ovarian cancer among patients could help stem this problem.

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Most women with ovarian cancer didn't know the symptoms of the disease before they were diagnosed, study suggests. Getty Images

Annwen Jones, co-chair of The Every Woman Study and CEO of the U.K.-based charity commented: "This study, for the first time, provides powerful evidence of the challenges faced by women diagnosed with ovarian cancer across the world, and sets an agenda for global change."

"We were especially shocked by the widespread, woeful lack of awareness of ovarian cancer. It is vital that urgent steps are taken in every country to raise awareness of the disease and speed up diagnosis so that we can transform the outlook for the increasing numbers of women and their families affected by ovarian cancer around the world."

Some 37 healthcare professionals from 15 countries and World Ovarian Cancer Coalition partner organizations, were surveyed for the study to paint a picture of attitudes and practices. Existing research on the disease was also taken into account for the study. The resulting information was used to create the Every Woman Study Online Survey, which 1,531 women women across 44 countries completed between March and May 2018.

The researchers found "a devastating litany of the challenges" faced by women with the disease and those who cared for them. The survey revealed women with ovarian cancer and those who cared for them too often had a lack of awareness of the symptoms and also encountered obstacles being diagnosed. Other problems the report highlighted included a disparity between those with a family history and testing which could catch the disease earlier that could help boost survival rates. In addition, the treatment and support women received was found to be lacking.

No one country was dealing with the disease entirely effectively, the organization warned.

Women in the U.S., for instance, waited more than three months on average before visiting a doctor to check their symptoms. However, they were also the most likely to undergo genetic testing.

In the U.S., ovarian cancer accounts for around 3 percent of cases of the disease but kills more women than any other form affecting the reproductive system. Annually, approximately 20,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.