News from Target Ovarian Cancer

25.02.10New GP Diagnostic Tool will help cut cancer deaths Target Ovarian Cancer and BMJ Learning launch a free to access online tool which aims to radically alter GPs' understanding of the disease.

BMJ Learning

The first, free, on-line learning tool to help GPs diagnose ovarian cancer, the fourth most deadly and often misdiagnosed cancer in women, is launched today, Friday 26 February, by the charity Target Ovarian Cancer ( and BMJ Learning, the medical education division of BMJ Group, in the run up to March’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  The GP learning tool, funded by Target Ovarian Cancer, aims to radically alter GPs understanding of the disease. 

The GP learning tool has been developed as a result of Target Ovarian Cancer’s Pathfinder Study which found that 96% of GPs incorrectly believe ovarian cancer is a ‘silent killer’.  In fact, 98% of women in the study showed symptoms prior to diagnosis. 76% of GPs are unaware of current Department of Health ovarian cancer guidelines about what symptoms to watch out for, yet three times as many women would survive if their disease was caught at the earliest possible stage.1  Many GP’s knowledge comes from their training years ago, prior to recent developments in ovarian cancer. 

6,800 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and 4,500 will die from the disease – that’s just a 30% five year survival overall and 12 women dying every day - one of the worst ovarian cancer survival rates in the western world2 and more than four times as many as die from cervical cancer.3  If diagnosed at an early stage up to 90% of women can survive ovarian cancer because their disease has not spread and responds more effectively to treatment.  If diagnosed late, however, around 85% of women with ovarian cancer will die. 

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said:  Our research shows that many GPs still believe what they were taught at medical school - that ovarian cancer is a 'silent killer' with no symptoms in early stage disease. Ovarian cancer is not a silent killer.  It is just not being heard.  GPs told us that online continuing professional development was one of their most preferred methods of keeping up to date, so we commissioned this invaluable, free tool.  It is part of our programme of activity to help earlier diagnosis of ovarian cancer and will enable GPs to change their thinking about ovarian cancer, so saving women’s lives.”

Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose. There's no doubt that the later presentation of symptoms, and on occasion delayed referral, will contribute to the death of women, and anything we can do to improve that situation, we should.  I strongly welcome this new learning resource for GPs, provided by BMJ learning, and am delighted that it is free of charge."

Dr Ayan Panja, a GP and media doctor, said:  "As a busy practising GP myself, I know how hard it is to keep on top of all the new developments across all clinical areas.  That's why this new tool is so useful.  In just one hour I can get up to date with the latest thinking on ovarian cancer, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.  The tool is totally free, and it is on-line making it very accessible.  As a doctor I particularly want to make sure I diagnose ovarian cancer quickly as many cases are not detected until it's too late.   I am looking forward to completing the online module which will both benefit the care I am able to give my patients and my own professional development."

Dr Phil Zack, Clinical Editor at BMJ Learning, said: "Continuous medical education is critical in providing the best possible health care for patients and we are delighted to be working with Target Ovarian Cancer to help GPs update their knowledge of this important condition. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to combine our strengths to provide clinicians with accurate diagnosis and treatment information that is relevant to their everyday practice."

The new, custom designed, on-line GP learning tool covers signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and diagnostic tests, based on the latest evidence.  It is an interactive tool that tests prior knowledge, works through a series of case studies asking at each stage how the user would manage the patient, and tests knowledge again at the end to assess how much the user has learnt. In just one hour, GPs are brought up to date with the risk factors for and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

The three key symptoms of ovarian cancer are persistent abdominal swelling, abdominal pain and difficulty eating or feeling full. These are symptoms widely experienced in the general population, however, where they are experienced on most days, they should be a red flag to GPs. The GP tool also emphasises the importance of examining women, as some women who think that they have just benign ‘bloating’ symptoms actually have a swollen abdomen, a key indicator of ovarian cancer. 

93% of GPs report that women often experience a delay in getting a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. For the vast majority of women until the point of diagnosis, the GP they saw most frequently did not suggest cancer.  The most common diagnoses were IBS (28%) and urinary infections (18%).  For almost a third of women with ovarian cancer it took over six months to get a correct diagnosis of the disease from first visiting their GP.1

The GP learning tool also includes an audit function for GPs to encourage them to monitor their performance in the care of patients after learning from the resource. GPs can measure improvements in performance – comparing patterns of care before and after their training with the tool.  By completing it, GPs can download learning credits that go towards the Royal College of General Practitioner’s Continuing Professional Development Scheme, for which they have to complete a certain number of learning modules each year.




More information from:               Karin Hobbs, Target Ovarian PR

                                                                07931 785 066



1 Target Ovarian Cancer’s Pathfinder Study 2009

2 Eurocare4 study