£20 test could save women from ovarian cancer

Women over 50 should be offered a simple £20 blood test to check for ovarian cancer which could save hundreds of lives

About 7,000 women develop ovarian cancer every year and two thirds of those diagnosed die within five years – but experts claim a simple blood test could save hundreds of lives.

Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer in females and campaigners are urging GPs to offer women over 50 the blood test, which could spot symptoms of ovarian cancer at an earlier stage.

‘The outcomes for ovarian cancer are not as good as for other cancers in women,’ says Fergus Macbeth, of Nice. ‘It’s symptoms are considered vague and so can be confused with other conditions,’ he says and emphasises the importance of early diagnosis.

Figures published in The Lancet show that about 82 per cent of British women with breast cancer survive to at least five years after diagnosis, but for ovarian cancer the figure is just 36 per cent due to late diagnosis.

The £20 blood test is already available on the NHS but offering it sooner could give women a greater chance of survival by speeding up diagnosis and therefore treatment. ‘While the symptoms are non-specific, their persistence can be an important indicator of the disease’, says Dr Macbeth.

Older women are often misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome when they are experiencing the early stages of ovarian cancer. Other symptoms include feeling full quickly and the need to urinate urgently.

Charles Redman, a consultant gynaecologist oncologist, says the length of time from a woman experiencing symptoms to being diagnosed is about 18 months: ‘Far too many women are being referred to hospitals for suspected ovarian cancer once their disease is already at an advanced stage.’

‘‘Poor early diagnosis in Britain is strongly linked to poor survival rates,’ says Frances Reid, from Target Ovarian Cancer. ‘Up to 500 women’s lives a year could be saved if only we matched the average survival rates in other European countries.’

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