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BEAT Ovarian Cancer: Could you recognise the symptoms to help earlier diagnosis?

This coming Sunday 8th May is World Ovarian Cancer Day. Ireland has one of the highest death rates from ovarian cancer in Europe. Approximately 400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in Ireland, and almost 300 women die every year. Ovarian cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer death in women in Ireland, after lung, breast, and colorectal cancer. Crucially, early diagnosis can significantly improve survival. 83% of patients diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis whereas only 16% of patients diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis.

New research has emerged from the Irish Network of Gynaecological Oncology (INGO) showing that 4 out of 5 women in Ireland would not be confident in recognising the symptoms of ovarian cancer. In fact, symptoms may be misinterpreted as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). INGO is a voluntary group and consists of thirty of Ireland’s foremost gynaecological cancer campaigners, researchers, and patient advocates. The aim of the group is to raise awareness of gynaecological cancers across the island of Ireland.

Ahead of World Ovarian Cancer Day, Dr Sharon O’Toole, Senior Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin and Coordinator of the World Ovarian Cancer Day campaign at INGO, described the efforts underway to educate women to recognise the symptoms of this deadly cancer using the BEAT acronym [see end of article].

Thirty of Ireland’s foremost gynaecological cancer campaigners, researchers and patient advocates have come together to highlight BEAT – an acronym summarising the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Because there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, women must all be more symptom aware. The clear message is that if you experience any of the BEAT symptoms for three weeks or more, you should contact your GP.”

The group also want to highlight that ovarian cancer cannot be detected with a cervical smear test. Professor Feras AbuSaadeh, Trinity St James’s Cancer Institute, said:

It is important to highlight that cervical smears do not detect ovarian cancer. We do not have a sensitive enough test yet to screen for ovarian cancer. By highlighting the BEAT acronym, we hope women will present earlier to their GP if there are experiencing persistent symptoms.”

Ovarian cancer survivor Melissa Harris described her experience as well as her passion for spreading correct and accurate information around the diagnosis of ovarian cancer:

I have never felt more passionate about anything than the importance of raising awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. I work as a hairdresser and so many of my clients asked was it found when I had a smear. So many women have symptoms, get a smear and are relieved when it’s okay and push it to the side – it’s scary. And a lot of women think ovarian cancer only affects older women. You need to listen to your body and make sure you’re aware of the BEAT symptoms.”

Two leading Irish artists have also joined the campaign to help spread the word on the signs of ovarian cancer:

  • Artist and fashion designer, Helen Steele, has designed an eye-catching tote bag and postcard using effective repetition of the word BEAT – highlighting the need to constantly repeat the symptoms in order to increase awareness and save lives.
  • Poet Laurate for Wexford, Sasha Terfous has written and performed a powerful spoken word piece, entitled BEAT, focussing on the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the experience of a woman’s ovarian cancer diagnosis.

The campaign builds up to May 8th, World Ovarian Cancer Day, when 20 buildings across Ireland including Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital Dublin will light up in teal, the international campaign colour. Over the coming week, INGO will conduct many interviews regionally to ensure that the word gets out throughout the Country.

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