The term “cancer” isn’t one that many people like to hear, and whether discussing cancer in your own life or in the life of someone near to your heart, it can be a sensitive and downright scary topic. Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women, and taking the time to understand causes and symptoms can help you be proactive and take action if it ever touches your life. Like other forms of cancer, ovarian cancer occurs because of a large growth of cells. In the UK alone, 6,800 women are diagnosed with this disease each year, with the majority of these cases occurring in women over the age of 50. In some cases, this cancer can spread to the abdomen through the bloodstream if left undetected.Ovarian cancer can affect the lining of the ovaries – this is known as epithelial ovarian cancer, or it can form in the cells of the ovaries that produce eggs this is called non-epithelial ovarian cancer. The majority of ovarian cancer however is epithelial, accounting for about 9 in 10 cases. Symptoms are often subtle or non-existent in the initial stages of ovarian cancer, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as a silent killer. Symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating and difficulty in eating, but unfortunately, as the symptoms are vague and common in other people not suffering from cancer, there is a risk of the cancer spreading before it is properly identified. Because symptoms are difficult to detect, the best method is prevention. Schedule regular check-ups with your GP and report any unusual bleeding, swelling, hair growth or loss of appetite to your doctor. If they suspect you might have ovarian cancer, more rigorous tests, such as an ultrasound or biopsy can be done to help identify the disease. While the exact causes are unknown, there are some contributing factors that can lead to ovarian cancer. Obesity, smoking and hormone replacement therapies can put women at higher risk of this form of cancer, as well as an unusually early or late start in life to menstruation. Women who take contraceptive birth control pills and those who have children tend to have less common occurrences of ovarian cancer. When a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the most common treatment is surgery. Depending on the type of cancer and how severe it is will influence whether the affected ovary or fallopian tube can be removed or if it will require a hysterectomy. If the cancer is detected early enough, the outlook is very positive for diagnosis, and following surgery many women make a full recovery and never deal with cancer again. While the thought of having cancer is daunting, being proactive and taking care of yourself can help prevent disease and will let you notice any symptoms as soon as they occur. Visit your doctor regularly for a physical and check-up, and report any changes in your body. That way, if ovarian cancer touches your life or that of someone close to you, you’ll be prepared to fight the disease head on and get back to normal as quickly as possible.