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Ask the expert: How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

Ask the expert: How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer? Expert oncologist Dr Adrian Franklin explains the key warning signs to look out for and how ovarian cancer is treated

How did you become a specialist in treating ovarian cancer?

I like physics and, as a radiation oncologist, I do brachytherapy, which is radiotherapy using radioactive implants. I started doing cervix brachytherapy and one by one all the other gynaecological tumours came my way, including ovarian cancer. It’s fascinating and a great privilege—you meet wonderful people from all backgrounds.

What symptoms should women look out for?

Woman suffering abdominal pain as symptom of ovarian cancerUnexplained abdominal pain and fatigue could be a sign of ovarian cancer

The symptoms are very generic. They can be bloating, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits or not eating quite as much. See your GP if you have persistent tiredness and bloating together.

Who is most at risk?

Being over 50 is a big risk factor. Starting periods early together with late menopause, having no children, a family history of cancer and being overweight can increase risk. There’s also a slightly increased risk for women taking oestrogen-only HRT and those who have endometriosis.

What can women do to reduce their risk?

Having a healthy, balanced lifestyle and being body aware are important. Certainly, controlling your weight can help. If you are worried about any symptoms, seek advice as soon as possible.

What are the most interesting new developments in the detection and treatment of ovarian cancer?

Doctor screening patient for ovarian cancerRemoving the fallopian tubes may help to prevent primary peritoneal cancers from emerging

A couple of studies are looking at BRCA carriers—carriers of a faulty gene that can cause breast and ovarian cancer. Women with this, like Angelina Jolie, sometimes have mastectomies and annual MRI scans.

Another is looking at removing the fallopian tubes, because we think many primary peritoneal cancers are likely to come from the fallopian tube.

A study finding an association between women taking more indigestion tablets and later being diagnosed with ovarian cancer means this can now be part of health surveillance.

The big development that is changing prognosis and quality of life is the use of PARP inhibitors. This is a targeted therapy that increases the time before the disease progresses.

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