Why ovarian cancer remains difficult to diagnose
Cancer At just 30 years old, Fiona Munro has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Here she tells about why doctors were so quick to dismiss her symptoms and what you should look out for.
"Last August I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. This led to surgery. After my operation I frequented my GP with complaints of abdominal pain, swelling and the need to pee a lot. She assured me that these symptoms were due to irritation caused by pregnancy but referred me for an ultrasound to reassure me.
The radiologist said I had large cysts on both of my ovaries. She said one looked ‘abnormal’ and perhaps a post-surgery infection was causing my symptoms. I mentioned my family history of ovarian cancer and asked if she thought I should be concerned. She said it was unlikely at my age but that she would refer me to see a consultant gynaecologist and arrange for my GP to take a CA125 blood test to rule it out.
The gynaecologist confirmed that my CA125 blood test results were elevated but he wasn’t concerned because this can also indicate an infection. He asked about sexual partners and said he was going to test me for STIs. I stated that I had been with my husband for 7 years and that I was concerned about ovarian cancer due to my persistent symptoms and family history of the disease.
He told me that he was not concerned and I was not at risk of ovarian cancer.
Over the next few weeks my abdominal swelling reached a point where I was unable to eat and I was growing increasingly anxious about my health.
When I returned to see the gynaecologist he said my tests had come back clear. Despite voicing my concerns again, he insisted I had a post-surgery infection. At a follow-up appointment my CA125 levels had risen even higher. He continued to reassure me that I had a post-surgery infection.
Two weeks later the abdominal swelling and pain got to be too much. I had another ultrasound that showed a build-up of fluid and I was admitted to hospital that night. They drained five litres of fluid from my abdominal cavity.
I was, again, assured that this was a sign of infection, given antibiotics and asked to come in the following week for an MRI. When I came in I was told that the fluid had tested clear from infection and that the lab was conducting further tests
The further tests confirmed my worst fears. The fluid contained ovarian cancer cells.
After 6 months of appointments, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.
What my story shows is that ovarian cancer is a beast to diagnose. But also that we women need to be persistent if they think something’s wrong. Nobody knows your body better than you do – listen to it.”
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- Persistent tummy pain
- Persistent bloating
- Needing to pee more often than usual
- Feeling full very quickly