Ovarian cancer: ‘I’d never had to deal with anything like that before in my life’

It is often diagnosed too late

“It turned my life upside down,” says Ellie, matter-of-factly. Ellie was 19 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had to drop out of university in Nottingham and start chemotherapy near her parents’ house in London. “It took a while to get a diagnosis, probably because I was so young. Nobody suspected cancer.” She’s now 23.

This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and charities including Ovarian Cancer Action want more people to know how to spot the early signs. There is no screening process, and ovarian is not as well-known as other cancers, so it is often diagnosed too late.

According to Ovarian Cancer Action, there are 7,000 diagnoses in UK each year. There’s a misconception it affects exclusively older women, and though it tends to be rarer in the young, one in five people diagnosed are under than 50.

Lucy Arthurs found herself in a similar position when she was diagnosed. At the time she was living in Hawaii, but had to fly home for treatment. “It doesn’t just come up in conversation when you’re 22 – ‘hey, by the way, a few months ago I had cancer’. I’d never had to deal with anything like that before in my life.”

Partly, the problem is that the symptoms are frequently misunderstood. The four main symptoms include persistent stomach pain, persistent bloating or increased stomach size, difficulty eating or feeling full very quickly, and needing to urinate more frequently. But all of these symptoms can point to other things, and many other young women are unaware that it might indicate something more serious. If yours are persistent – ie occurring most days – or new, or unusual, it’s worth getting yourself checked out.

Amy Quinn had to have her ovaries removed as part of her treatment for Ovarian Cancer. At first she was dismissed as being a “grumpy teenager”, but as the pains increased Amy had to put her life on hold as doctors worked out what was wrong.

When women are diagnosed in the early stages of ovarian cancer, they have a 90 per cent chance of surviving for more than five years. This is exactly why early diagnosis is so crucial.

Last week a study from Ovarian Cancer Action found that many women prioritised work over making an appointment. A similar study from last year found many young people were too embarrassed to get help for gynaecological issues. Instead more than half just Google their symptoms instead.

“If I had been 50 years old, they would have jumped to it but because of my age they didn’t take it into account,” says Amy, a representative for Teenage Cancer Trust. “Too many young people die because of this. In my case, an early diagnosis could have saved my ovaries.”

To learn more about ovarian cancer, please visit Ovarian Cancer Action.