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Posted by Target Ovarian Cancer on Wednesday 23 January 2013

Early diagnosis key to survival, but women face delays at every turn, according to new data.

The lives of women with ovarian cancer in the UK are still being cut short because of delays to their diagnoses. The stark findings on delays are published as part of Target Ovarian Cancer’s Pathfinder Study, which is being launched at the House of Commons today.

Early diagnosis is key to survival. Women diagnosed at the earliest stage of ovarian cancer have a 5 year survival rate of 92 per cent1, but the 5 year survival rate in the UK is just 36 per cent, amongst the worst in Europe. Experts say 500 lives a year could be saved through earlier diagnosis if the UK could match the best rates in Europe.2

Despite these figures, new data from Target Ovarian Cancer’s Pathfinder Study shows that women are still facing delays that are costing lives:

  • 1 in 4 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the last 5 years took more than three months to visit their GP after they began experiencing symptoms. And over half took more than a month.
  • Once at the GPs, the report claims, the women still faced problems getting a correct diagnosis. For almost a third of women diagnosis was more than 6 months after they first went to see their doctor. Misdiagnosis is common, with 30 per cent of women misdiagnosed as having Irritable Bowel Syndrome; 15 per cent ovarian cysts and 13 per cent a urinary infection.
  • To further increase delays, one in ten GPs has had diagnostic tests (CA125, TVU or abdominal scans) refused in the past year.

The Pathfinder Study also surveyed health professionals, with by far the biggest proportion (55 per cent) of clinicians believing that tackling earlier diagnosis is the most urgent issue to ensure women in the UK have as good a chance of surviving ovarian cancer as women in other countries.

Esther Matthews, who had ovarian cancer, said: “Misdiagnosis and delays meant seven frustrating months before I was finally diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a frightening and anxious time for me and my family. I was lucky, and am now free of cancer, but for many, the delay means their cancer has already spread, and treatment is difficult.”

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Early diagnosis is key. 32 per cent of women are diagnosed in A&E. 75 per cent of women are diagnosed once the cancer has spread. This is unacceptable. We must improve symptom awareness with women, improve GP knowledge and ensure they have prompt access to diagnostic tests. It is imperative that the Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaign is extended across England and that other home nations take similar action to stop women needlessly dying.

2: Coleman M Foreman D Bryant H et al; Cancer survival in Australia Canada Denmark Norway Sweden and the UK 1995-2007 (the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership) : an analysis of population-based cancer registry data. The Lancet 2011; 377(9760): 127-138