Women and GPs lack awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms

In collaboration with the Press Association

Research by an ovarian cancer charity has highlighted a widespread lack of awareness of the symptoms of the disease among both women and their GPs.

Around 6,800 women are affected by ovarian cancer each year in the UK, and the disease is often diagnosed at a late stage, when treatment is less effective.

But research has shown that early diagnosis could improve survival rates to around 90 per cent, highlighting the importance of recognising the symptoms of the disease.


According to the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, many women experience symptoms for around 12 months before they are diagnosed, yet the possible signs are either ignored or mistaken for something else.

The charity's latest research surveyed 400 GPs and 1,000 women and confirmed that many do not know the main symptoms of the disease.

Their findings, presented at the House of Commons today (June 29th), revealed that around four fifths of GPs wrongly thought that women with early-stage ovarian cancer did not have any symptoms.

In fact, Department of Health guidance states that women may experience sudden and sustained symptoms, including persistent pelvic or abdominal pain, increased abdominal size, constant bloating, difficulty eating and feeling full quickly.

Yet only 27 per cent of the GPs polled for the Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study were aware of the guidance, which was published in February this year.

Only half of GPs knew that 'increased abdominal size' was the most important symptom of ovarian cancer, and fewer than two per cent knew that 'difficulty eating' or 'feeling full' were possible signs of the disease.

Over three fifths (61 per cent) did not realise that a woman's risk of ovarian cancer is increased if there is a history of the disease on her father's side of the family, and many thought that symptoms of ovarian cancer were more likely to indicate irritable bowel syndrome.

Among the 1,000 women polled, only four per cent were confident about naming a symptom of ovarian cancer and many were unaware of the links with increasing age (63 per cent) and childlessness (80 per cent).

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said that ovarian cancer "needs to become a priority".

"Our in-depth investigation into the diagnosis, care and treatment of ovarian cancer patients and their health care professionals is starting to tell us what can be done to save some of the 12 women a day who are lost to ovarian cancer," she revealed.

"The Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study is the most ambitious research exercise of its kind and has helped spotlight gaps in provision as well as examples of good practice."

In light of its findings, the charity has called upon the Department of Health to spearhead a national campaign to improve awareness of the symptoms of the disease.

Health minister Ann Keen said that the government is "committed" to improving survival rates by increasing awareness among women and GPs.

Dr Jodie Moffat, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "When cancer is found at an early stage, treatment is often milder and more likely to be effective, so diagnosing cancer early is crucial. But we know that all too often cancer is found at a late stage, which is why we're working with the Department of Health and others on the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI).

"These interesting findings reinforce the importance of NAEDI's work in trying to raise public awareness of cancer, promote earlier presentation and support doctors in knowing when to refer patients to hospital."