NI woman Alison Kavanagh: ‘Being told I had a rare form of ovarian cancer was a complete shock’

Alison is urging other women to be aware of ovarian cancer symptoms. She talks to HELEN MCGURK

By Helen McGurk
Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 12:53 pm
Alison Kavanagh was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2021
Alison Kavanagh was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2021

When Lisburn woman Alison Kavanagh developed abdominal pain, bloating and abnormal bleeding aged 52, she put her symptoms down to her age.

She said: “I had considered myself post-menopausal for four years. When the bleeding persisted and worsened, a good friend persuaded me to see my GP, although I was still convinced I was making a fuss about nothing.

“My GP put me at ease and listened to my concerns. She immediately ran some blood tests and requested an urgent ‘red flag’ gynae appointment at my local hospital. It was explained that there could have been a number of possible causes of my bleeding, including cancer.”

Mum-of-three Alison explained: “Whilst my blood tests came back within the normal range, an ultrasound scan revealed a mass on my right ovary. Although I hoped it was benign, it was decided surgery was the best option and I underwent a total hysterectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (surgery to remove both ovaries and fallopian tubes) in June 2021.

“Several weeks later I was seen by the gynae clinical nurse specialists at the Ulster Hospital where I was advised that I had a rare form of ovarian cancer - granulosa cell tumor. Thankfully, it was diagnosed at stage 1.

“Whilst I understood cancer was a possibility, the news still came as a complete shock. No one ever wants to receive this news, however by prompt intervention my cancer was caught at an early stage and I haven’t needed any further treatment.

“I will continue to be monitored by the gynae clinical nurse specialist team and I am so thankful for the treatment that I have received, for those who listened, took action and cared, you saved my life!.”

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise, particularly in the early stages of the disease.

Early symptoms can include those similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, for example; persistent bloating, difficulty eating, feeling full quickly and persistent abdominal and pelvic pain.

Later symptoms would include loss of appetite, indigestion, nausea, pain on intercourse, increased abdominal size, urinary and bowel habit changes, shortness of breath, lower back pain, tiredness and abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Alison, a regional facilities manager, is encouraging all women to be proactive and to make an appointment with their GP if they have symptoms they are unsure about.

“I would urge every woman to be aware of the common ovarian cancer symptoms, we know our own bodies and what is normal for us, so if something just doesn’t seem quite right for you, take that first step and speak to your GP. No one will think you’re wasting their time, and it could save your life. Don’t put it off, early detection will give you a much better outcome.”

Target Ovarian Cancer recently revealed most women do not know that bloating is a key symptom of ovarian cancer, while GPs are also too quick to dismiss the signs,

A poll of 1,000 women for the charity found 79 per cent did not know that bloating is a symptom, while 68 per cent were unaware abdominal pain is a sign and 97 per cent were unaware that feeling full is another.

Most women (99 per cent) did not know that needing to pee more urgently is also a sign, while evidence suggests women can often be told their symptoms are more a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Some 40 per cent of women also incorrectly believed ovarian cancer can be picked up by screening for cervical cancer, the survey found.

Ovarian cancer kills around a third of women in the first year after diagnosis and is often diagnosed in the late stages.

There are around 7,500 new ovarian cancer cases in the UK every year.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “These figures are incredibly disappointing.

“We know we’ve shifted the dial in the past 10 years through the dedication of thousands of Target Ovarian Cancer’s campaigners, but it is not enough.

“Knowing the symptoms is crucial for everyone. We need to make sustained and large-scale Government-backed symptoms campaigns a reality.

“Progress is possible. If we do this, fewer people will be diagnosed late, fewer will need invasive treatment, and, ultimately, fewer will die needlessly from ovarian cancer.”

Meanwhile, researchers have discovered that a drug used to treat skin and lung cancers could also cut the chance of dying from a type of ovarian cancer.

The drug – called trametinib – slowed the progression of cancer and helped boost the number of women responding to treatment.

Researchers say the findings are so impressive that the treatment should now be considered the standard of care for this rare type of cancer, known as low grade serous ovarian cancer.

This form of the disease occurs mostly in young women, is difficult to treat, and is often not diagnosed until at an advanced stage. According to the study, trametinib reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 52 per cent compared with hormonal treatment or chemotherapy.

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