Women's Health Concern

Early diagnosis key to surviving ovarian cancer

23 January 2013

The lives of women with ovarian cancer in the UK are still being cut short because of delays to their diagnoses. The stark findings on delays are published as part of Target Ovarian Cancer's Pathfinder Study, which is being launched at the House of Commons today

Results of this public survey found that, over the past five years, one in four women diagnosed with ovarian cancer took more than three months to visit their GP after they started having symptoms. Around half took more than a month.

Three per cent of these women said they "knew a lot" about the disease prior to their diagnosis. And more than half said they had "heard of the disease but knew nothing about it".

Once at the GPs, the report found that women still faced problems getting a correct diagnosis. A third of women were diagnosed more than six months after they first went to see their doctor.

The report also showed that 30 per cent of women were misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, 15 per cent as having ovarian cysts and 13 per cent as having a urinary infection.

On top of this, one in ten GPs reported having diagnostic tests for their patients, such as abdominal scans, refused in the past year.

Early diagnosis is key to survival. Women diagnosed at the earliest stage of ovarian cancer have a 5 year survival rate of 92%, but the 5 year survival rate in the UK is just 36%, amongst the worst in Europe. Experts say 500 lives a year could be saved through earlier diagnosis if the UK could match the best rates in Europe.

The Pathfinder Study also surveyed health professionals, with by far the biggest proportion (55%) of clinicians believing that tackling earlier diagnosis is the most urgent issue to ensure women in the UK have as good a chance of surviving ovarian cancer as women in other countries.

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: "Early diagnosis is key. 32% of women are diagnosed in A&E. 75% of women are diagnosed once the cancer has spread. This is unacceptable. We must improve symptom awareness with women, improve GP knowledge and ensure they have prompt access to diagnostic tests.

Cancer Research UKs Dr Knight said: "Nearly a third of women with the disease are diagnosed as an emergency and survival rates in the UK are worse compared to other countries. We urgently need to do more to improve both the way the disease is diagnosed and treated.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include pelvic or tummy pain, bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full.

If you experience any of these, they are new for you and happen on most days, see your GP. And if your symptoms persist, keep going back to your doctor.

For further information on the Pathfinder survey and ovarian cancer, please visit www.targetovariancancer.org.uk