Late ovarian cancer diagnoses 'are costing lives'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Delays in diagnosis are cutting short the lives of women with ovarian cancer, according to a UK charity.

Women putting off visiting their GP and subsequent delays in getting the correct diagnosis are highlighted as "areas of concern" by Target Ovarian Cancer.

The charity's latest Pathfinder Study, launched today at the House of Commons, also says that delays in diagnosis could be down to GPs requests for tests for their patients being refused.

Dr Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said the report was a "timely reminder" that urgent attention must be given to ovarian cancer, and added that treatment - not just early diagnosis - needs to be improved.

Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the earliest stage have a five-year survival rate of 92 per cent.

But the overall survival rate in the UK is just 43 per cent - among the worst in Europe.

Previous studies have suggested that late diagnosis could be one reason why the UK lags behind other countries, but recent research  suggests that the UK may be worse at treating late-stage ovarian cancer.

The latest study found that, over the last 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.

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."

Copyright Press Association 2013