'Silent killer' warning

PUBLISHED: 11:07 27 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:05 06 May 2010

The Grove House nursing team

The Grove House nursing team

A CANCER which is difficult to diagnose and treat is being highlighted by Grove House as part of a special awareness month. Ovarian cancer is often known as the silent killer and strikes more than 7,000 women each year. While research continues, there i

A CANCER which is difficult to diagnose and treat is being highlighted by Grove House as part of a special awareness month.

Ovarian cancer is often known as the "silent killer" and strikes more than 7,000 women each year.

While research continues, there is still little known about the causes of ovarian cancer. For example, a family history of breast cancer may be a risk factor or a woman who has never had children or who has not breast fed might also be susceptible.

Evidence is also building to suggest that the use of fertility treatments may increase vulnerability but conversely it may be that being infertile is what increases ovarian cancer risk rather than any treatment.

Symptoms can be difficult to spot as they are vague and not persistent which is part of the reason that this type of cancer often goes undetected until its later stages.

They are similar to other common problems such as indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome but the most common signs to look out for are a constantly swollen abdomen, onset of unexplained nausea, ongoing excessive tiredness, unexplained back or abdominal pain or any abnormal bleeding.

Diagnosis can include scans, blood tests, laparoscopy or physical examination. Cysts and benign growths on ovaries are fairly common so if one is detected, it is important to establish as soon as possible whether or not it is malignant.

Last year Grove House, the St Albans day hospice which is supported by the Herts Advertiser, provided more than 8,000 treatments and consultations for people diagnosed with cancer or life-threatening illness.

One of them was Kate (not her real name) who admitted she had never heard of Grove House until her GP mentioned it.

She added: "I have no family in this country and very little support. I really didn't know where to turn. The people at Grove House are like my family now; I feel so close to them all."

Kate's story is typical of many. For two years she suffered with exceptionally heavy periods and a distended abdomen and eventually, after repeated visits to her GP, she was sent for an ultrasound scan.

A week before her 34th birthday, Kate discovered she had a large malignant tumour on the outside of her uterus which needed surgery. But as the tumour had had time to grow, the surgery involved removal of her ovaries and womb.

She said: "In some ways I am lucky. I have one lovely little boy but it saddens me to know that I will never be able to have another child of my own."

Kate took part in the course Cancer the Next Step, an eight-week programme for newly-diagnosed patients under 60. The course, designed to help people overcome the shock of a cancer diagnosis and move on with their lives, is just one of eight free services offered to people in St Albans, Harpenden and Dacorum.

She said: "I really looked forward to my visits there every Monday. I particularly enjoyed my Reiki sessions with Anne, one of the therapists. When I saw her, it was like the sun shining."

Kate's year of chemotherapy is currently coming to an end and she is now looking forward to a bright future full of support and guidance from the Grove House staff.

To find out more about the course or any of the services Grove House offers phone 01727 731000 or go to the website www.grove-house.org.uk where there is also information on volunteering, making a regular donation and leaving a gift in your will.

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