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Majority of Women Polled Unable to ID Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

More needs to be done to increase awareness of ovarian cancer after polling suggested that key symptoms were being ignored by those experiencing them, as well as their GPs, a charity said.

A telephone survey for Target Ovarian Cancer revealed that 79% of women were unaware that persistent bloating was an important symptom to watch out for, while 4 out of 10 women wrongly believed that cervical screening detected ovarian cancer.

'Disappointing' Findings

Annwen Jones OBE, the charity's chief executive, described the survey results as "incredibly disappointing".

The poll of 1002 women, carried out by Survation in January, found that only a small minority were able to identify major symptoms. These were:

  • Persistent bloating (21%)
  • Persistent abdominal pain (32%)
  • Feeling full (3%)
  • Needing to urinate more urgently (1%)

Asked whether a cervical screening test could identify ovarian cancer, 40% thought it would – up 9% on the 2016 figure of 31%.

Katy Stephenson, 47, from Bury St Edmunds, was diagnosed with early-stage ovarian cancer in 2021. She said: "I had been experiencing symptoms like bloating and needing to wee more urgently for a few months, but I'd put it down to being peri-menopausal. I had a fluke diagnosis when I was admitted to hospital with appendicitis."

GPs 'Must be Knowledgeable'

Dr Victoria Barber, a GP in Northamptonshire who campaigns for early diagnosis of ovarian cancer in the primary care community, said: "Symptoms do appear early on in ovarian cancer, and your GP wants to hear from you if you're experiencing any of them, if they are new for you, and if they do not go away. Similarly, it’s vital that GPs are knowledgeable on ovarian cancer and know how to advise patients who have concerns.

Target Ovarian Cancer had developed a GP education programme to help, she said.

Between 2013 and 2017, 1- and 5-year age-standardised survival for ovarian cancer was 71.7% and 42.6% respectively, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Annwen Jones called for "sustained and large-scale government-backed symptoms campaigns".

She said: "If we do this, fewer people will be diagnosed late, fewer will need invasive treatment, and ultimately, fewer will die needlessly from ovarian cancer."

The poll was conducted ahead of ovarian cancer month in March.

Lead Image Credit: Science Photo Library/Getty Images