Ovarian cancer frequently misdiagnosed

Doctors’ ‘confusion’ leads to avoidable deaths

A survey by the charity Target Ovarian Cancer questioned British GPs and found that 80% mistakenly thought women with early stages of ovarian cancer had no signs of the disease.

And of 1,000 women polled, only 4% said they could ‘confidently identify’ symptoms of the disease.

Target Ovarian Cancer said that if women are diagnosed with the disease at an early stage, 90% could survive.

A spokesman for the Royal College of GPs, however, said it was ‘extraordinarily difficult’ to diagnose ovarian cancer in the early stages.

The survey of GPs also found that almost three-quarters of the GPs were unaware of Department of Health guidelines, outlining the symptoms doctors should watch for and published in February.

Symptoms include persistent pain in the pelvic region or stomach, increased abdominal size, persistent bloating and difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.

When the GPS were asked to pick out potential symptoms, 51% correctly identified ‘increased abdominal size’ as the most important symptom, but less than 2% picked out ‘difficulty eating’ or ‘feeling full’. The early signs of ovarian cancer can be confused with those of irritable bowel syndrome, and women are often sent for gastric tests. But by the time it is realised this is not the cause, the cancer is often very advanced.

Around 6,800 women are diagnosed with the cancer each year, and of those only 30% are still alive five years after diagnosis, a statistic the charity says has not improved in 30 years. Whereas during the same period, a spokesman for the charity told the BBC, breast cancer survival has increased from 50% to 80%.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘The more we can do to raise awareness of ovarian cancer – and remind patients and doctors that it can creep up on people – the better.’

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