News from Target Ovarian Cancer

Annwen Jones speaking at the launch of Six simple steps

27.02.12New Target Ovarian Cancer evidence puts pressure on Government to act over needless deaths Needless deaths could be avoided with urgent action as new research shows consistently woeful symptom awareness among women.

Preliminary results from the Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012 today revealed no change in important measures of women’s awareness compared to significant progress in GP awareness over the last three years.

Just 3% of the 1003 women polled by Ipsos MORI, as part of the Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012, were very confident at recognising a symptom of ovarian cancer. This is unchanged from when the question was first asked three years ago.

The latest statistics were published a year after a major international benchmarking study[1] showed the UK has amongst the worst survival rates for the disease in developed countries, a fact strongly linked to late diagnosis.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer said: “We have had encouraging discussions with the Department of Health about action on this issue. We believe in the face of this latest evidence though, there must now be a recognition that women in the UK can’t wait any longer.

“Women are dying needlessly every day because they didn’t know the symptoms of this disease before they were diagnosed with advanced cancer. Had it have been caught at an earlier stage their chances of surviving five years would have almost doubled.”

The charity pointed the success of recent national awareness-raising initiatives among GPs compared to the lack of similar public campaigns.

“The evidence is piling up. Women are being let down by the failure to act in the UK. We need a national awareness campaign now to end needless deaths from this disease. Of the 4,400 who die from ovarian cancer each year, 500 of those women would still be alive each year if we only match European survival rates.   

“We are determined to see women at risk from ovarian cancer get a better chance of survival, we need to see continued improvements in GP awareness and kick-start women’s symptoms knowledge.

“Ovarian cancer does have early symptoms, and if caught early survival rates rise to 70%. Presently only 36% of women will survive five years after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. This is because many are not diagnosed until the cancer is advanced.

“We and other charities are doing our bit, but what’s needed urgently is a major national push of the kind that the Department of Health acknowledges has delivered impressive results in awareness of other cancers.

“We want a regional pilot immediately to replicate the success of the Department of Health’s bowel cancer campaign, which used a combination of TV, radio, leaflets and events to get the message across. 

“The Department of Health’s official leading on early diagnosis in cancer said the campaign had 75% recognition among the public and GPs.

“The regional pilot was so successful that the bowel cancer campaign was rolled out nationally in January.

“The public understand the value of this kind of publicity, 96% said this kind of awareness-raising was important work for the Department of Health to do.”

One glimmer of good news, however, from the Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012 is that the number of women who recognised bloating as a major symptom has nearly doubled from 9% to 17%. 

But the charity said this still compares poorly to other cancers with 76% of women knowing a breast lump is a sign of breast cancer.

The Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012 also reveals the impact of national awareness-raising on targeted groups with significant improvements in GP awareness compared to three years ago.

It showed 12% fewer GPs believe ovarian cancer can only be detected at late stage. More GPs agreed bloating and feeling full were important symptoms.  

This coincides strongly with two significant developments in the last two years. Target Ovarian Cancer commissioned BMJ Learning to develop a continuing professional development module to update GPs knowledge.  It was launched in 2010. 18% of GPs polled said they had completed the charity’s award-winning training tool.

In April 2012 NICE published the first official guidance to GPs about the symptoms, diagnosis and early treatments for ovarian cancer.  The Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012 found 68% of a nationally representative sample of 402 GPs was aware of the NICE guidance.

There have been no similar large-scale initiatives among women in the same period.

Ms Jones added: “The key to success, as the evidence shows, is for a national campaign to be spearheaded by the Government.

“Success could be as simple and immediate as ensuring a leaflet about the symptoms of ovarian cancer is given to every woman having routine screening for cervical or breast cancer as part of a planned regional pilot consisting of more tactics. Successful elements should then be rolled out nationally as in the bowel cancer campaign.

“Unless women know to be concerned about their symptoms, lives will continue to be lost unnecessarily”.

[1] The Lancet, Volume 377, Issue 9760, Pages 127 - 138, 8 January 2011

For more information about the Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study click here.  Target Ovarian Cancer is now asking women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer within the last five years, Clinical Nurse Specialists and clinicians to take part in the study, which will report in full later this year.