Scottish women’s awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms is alarmingly low, leaving women without knowledge that could save lives, according to new Scotland-wide research by Target Ovarian Cancer.
Just one in five (17 per cent) of women surveyed for the charity’s research Pathfinder Scotland, introduced today at an event in the Scottish Parliament, could name bloating as a major symptom of ovarian cancer1. Awareness of all four main symptoms – abdominal bloating, tummy pain, difficulty eating or feeling full and needing to wee more often or urgently – is similarly low, while one in three women (31 per cent) wrongly assumes that cervical screening also detects ovarian cancer.
Women in Scotland find themselves at further disadvantage – Pathfinder Scotland also found that over one third (36 per cent) of women visit their GP three times or more before being referred for ovarian cancer tests, making it more likely they will be diagnosed at a later stage and making treatment more difficult.
Scotland leads the way in ovarian cancer diagnosis and care in the UK, having improved its diagnostic pathway and access to much-needed treatments. But awareness of the symptoms among GPs and women is still low. Target Ovarian Cancer is calling on the Scottish Government to launch a new Detect Cancer Early awareness campaign to ensure women know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the importance of going to their GP. Knowing these cancer symptoms could save lives – being diagnosed at the earliest stage of ovarian cancer doubles a woman’s chances of survival2.
Christine Mitchell, from Alness, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013. She said: “My vigilant GP sent me for tests immediately and I received an early diagnosis. Now I want to make sure I am the rule, not the exception – women in Scotland deserve better. I would like to see better awareness of ovarian cancer and the symptoms among GPs and women alike.”
Rebecca Rennison, Target Ovarian Cancer’s Director of Public Affairs, said: “Scotland has led the way in ovarian cancer, having improved how women are diagnosed and access to new treatments. Pathfinder Scotland shows that more remains to be done. We need to see better awareness of the symptoms, and an improvement in the worrying trend that sees many women visit their GP multiple times before being sent for ovarian cancer tests. Women need the right support, from detection through diagnosis to treatment of ovarian cancer.”
Dr Ros Glasspool, Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, and Chair, National Cancer Research Institute Ovarian sub-group said: “Pathfinder shows us the progress we have made with ovarian cancer in Scotland – with strong guidelines to help GPs order diagnostic tests earlier, and good support for women. More importantly, it helps us to see where next to put our energy, in order that more women in Scotland can be diagnosed earlier and live well for longer.”
Ovarian cancer can be devastating. Every year 600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Scotland, and 360 women die from the disease3. Target Ovarian Cancer’s Pathfinder study is the only one of its kind in Scotland, and looks at all aspects of living and working with ovarian cancer.
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Table 1. Ability of women in the general population in Scotland to name one of the four main symptoms of ovarian cancer (unprompted)
|Abdominal distension or bloating (per cent)||17|
Abdominal pain (per cent)
Feeling full quickly/difficulty eating (per cent)
|Urinary symptoms (per cent)||5|
2. Cancer Research UK website. Available at: www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/ovarian-cancer/survival [Accessed 17 May 2017]
3. Information Services Division Scotland (2017) Cancer Statistics. Available at: http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Cancer/Cancer-Statistics/Female-Genital-Organ/#ovary [Accessed 2 May 2017]