How to check for ovarian cancer at home

Woman hands holding decorative model uterus on pink backgroun

by Geraldine Bauer |
Updated on

Ovarian cancer has a bad reputation for being diagnosed late because the symptoms are subtle and easily overlooked. Checking for cancer at home can feel overwhelming, but we know that early detection improves health outcomes. Learning these simple steps to be proactive about your health, and reaching out when something feels wrong, could save your life.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer can affect anyone with the female reproductive system containing ovaries and fallopian tubes. 7,500 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, making it the 6th most common cancer in women.

It happens when abnormal cells in your ovaries grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. This growth can turn into a tumour and/or spread into surrounding areas of the body. There are different types of ovarian cancer, categorised by which type of cell they develop in.

Is there a screening programme for ovarian cancer?

We are all familiar with the not-so-glamourous but very important smear test, part of the cervical screening programme. Unfortunately, there isn’t currently a programme like this for ovarian cancer. Researchers are working hard to identify reliable markers in the body which might act as an early indicator of ovarian cancer. Until then, at-home checks are a valuable way of taking your health into your own hands.

While at home checks for ovarian cancer aren't as straightforward as checking yourself for signs of breast cancer, there are two key things you can do:

Identify your risk

So, what are your chances of getting ovarian cancer? Certain types of ovarian cancer are hereditary, which means it runs in families. This can be identified by testing for BRCA1/2 gene mutations. Having this gene mutation can increase your risk by up to 60%. This sounds really scary but there is a lot of support available for you if this is the case. Experts agree that being informed can help you take risk-reducing actions where you can. It is a good idea to check with family members to see if anyone has had ovarian cancer under the age of 50. The charity, Ovarian Cancer Action also has an amazing Hereditary Cancer Risk Tool, so make sure you check it out.

You can get ovarian cancer at any age, but the risk is highest in those aged between 75-79. This is partly because the risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with the number of ovulations. Starting your period at a young age, never missing periods due to pregnancy or breastfeeding, and reaching menopause at a later age all play a role in the number of ovulations experienced.

Certain treatments such as Hormone Replacement Therapy are thought to minimally increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer, whilst the Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill has been shown to reduce the risk.

Recognise symptoms

Recognising and being aware of the potential warning signs of ovarian cancer is the main thing you can do to help reduce your risk. If you notice any of the below symptoms, or experience changes in your body that are not normal for you, talk to your doctor about them.

Persistent bloating, stomach and back pain, difficulty eating, and frequent urination are the main symptoms of ovarian cancer. It is no surprise that these often go unnoticed!

Experts recommend using a diary to record any patterns if you start to notice these symptoms.

When to seek help

If you are worried about a history of ovarian cancer in your family, notice a pattern of these symptoms, or something just doesn’t feel right, it's time to get in touch with your GP. They can get the ball rolling with blood tests and scans of your ovaries.

Remember, early detection is important. At-home checks and remaining aware of the symptoms, may help nudge us to make that important call to the GP. The best way to be proactive about your health is by understanding your risk, keeping an eye on your symptoms, and communicating with healthcare professionals. If in doubt, get checked out!

Geraldine Bauer is a psychology graduate and registered nurse specialising in oncology and palliative care. She is a mum of two children (aged 5 and 2) and spends most of her time balancing her passions and enjoying time with her family. As a freelance journalist, she specialises in health and wellness, fitness, and all things motherhood. She has travelled and lived abroad and loves sharing her experiences to help other families who are hoping to do the same.

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