Should I see an ovarian cancer specialist? | Cancer Research UK
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Should I see an ovarian cancer specialist?

Women discussing ovarian cancer

This page tells you about the guidelines that GPs have to help them decide who needs to see a specialist for possible ovarian cancer. There are sections on

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Should I see an ovarian cancer specialist?

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who has something much less serious. But there are particular symptoms that mean your GP should carry out urgent tests or refer you to a specialist straight away. National guidelines say that GPs should examine you if you have symptoms such as

  • Tummy (abdominal) or pelvic pain
  • Long lasting swelling or bloating of your abdomen
  • Needing to pass urine more often than usual (frequency) or more suddenly than usual (urgency)
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full

If your doctor is concerned, they should do a full pelvic examination. This will include an internal examination, if you agree to have one. You may have a CA125 blood test. This is a general test and can't diagnose ovarian cancer on its own. But it can help to show that something may be wrong. If your GP can feel a lump in your tummy, or has other cause for concern, you should have an urgent ultrasound scan. If an urgent scan appointment isn't available, your GP should refer you to a specialist. You should ideally get an appointment within 2 weeks.

If you have symptoms and you do not think your GP is taking them seriously enough, you could print out this page and take it to discuss with them.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about ovarian cancer section.

 

 

About UK guidelines

It can be very difficult for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have something much less serious that will go away on its own. With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if the symptoms get better or go away with treatment such as antibiotics. If GPs referred everyone who came to see them to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed and people needing urgent appointments wouldn't be able to get them.

Seeing a specialist

If you have particular symptoms, your GP should offer tests or refer you to a specialist straight away. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Government have produced guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients need to be seen urgently by a specialist.

 

What your GP should do

The GP should arrange CA125 and/or ultrasound tests in women (especially aged 50 or over) with any of the following persistent symptoms (more than 12 times a month)

  • Tummy (abdominal) or pelvic pain
  • Long lasting swelling or bloating of your tummy
  • Passing urine more often than usual (frequency) or more suddenly than usual (urgency)
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full

Your GP may also offer you tests if you

  • Are feeling tired all the time
  • Have lost weight for no obvious reason
  • Have changes in bowel habit (for example constipation or diarrhoea)

If the scan result shows any signs that you may have ovarian cancer, you should see a specialist within 2 weeks. 

If your GP does not think that you have ovarian cancer, they will not refer you to a specialist but will ask you to go back to them again if your symptoms continue or happen more often.

 

Urgent referral to a specialist

According to NICE guidelines, your GP should refer you urgently (within 2 weeks) to see a specialist if

  • You have a lump in your abdomen or pelvis, that is not fibroids
  • You have a build up of fluid (ascites) in your abdomen
  • Your ultrasound scan shows a lump or abnormal area that could be ovarian cancer
 

If you are still worried

If you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think they should, you could print this page and take it along to an appointment. Ask your GP to talk it through with you and then you may be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.

If you've been to the GP before with your symptoms, and they have not improved or are happening more often, you could ask your GP for the CA125 blood test or to refer you for an ultrasound scan. 

The CA125 blood test is a general test and can't diagnose ovarian cancer on its own.  But it can help to show that something may be wrong. 

Remember - if you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer then your GP may be able to refer you to a family cancer clinic so that you can have your family history properly assessed.  You may then be able to have screening for ovarian cancer.

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Updated: 23 March 2016