Monday, 31 August 2009

Women with ovarian cancer ‘dying because GPs fail to spot signs’

Well, this was a fun read…not! Oh and by the way…you women who are reading this who have NEVER had cancer…well, watch for the signs girls. I didn't think I'd ever have it either, and BLAM…wake up to a new world…pay ATTENTION here please. I don't want anyone to go through what I went through. Watch for the signs. Look out for your own health. Don't mess about.  Scarily, your GP may not realise what's wrong – you need to know the signs yourself, and you need to ask the right in: "can you send me for a scan?". Like…NOW!! [by the way, 'silent' killer?? pah!!]

"Women with ovarian cancer are dying because GPs are failing to detect the early signs of the disease, a study suggests today.

The disease, known as the “silent killer”, is the fifth-most common cancer in women, with 6,800 new cases each year in Britain and 4,300 deaths. Many GPs believe that it has no obvious signs in the early stages.

Researchers writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) say that family doctors may be overlooking a main symptom because it is not included in the guidance for urgent investigation.

Women who report a distended abdomen need to be seen urgently for tests, they say. Yet the guidance says that women should be referred only if they experience abnormal bleeding or if they have a palpable mass that is not obviously fibroids (benign tumours).

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Survival rates for ovarian cancer are above 70 per cent if it is caught early, but only about one in three is given the diagnosis in the early stages.

The research, carried out by a team from the department of community-based medicine at the University of Bristol, involved 212 women, all aged over 40, from 39 general practices in Devon. They were compared with more than 1,000 healthy women acting as a control group.

The researchers found that many of the women had told their GP about their symptoms, with the most common being abdominal distension, pain, bloating and loss of appetite. But some women reporting distension, urinary frequency and pain waited at least six months before a diagnosis was made.

Willie Hamilton, the consultant senior lecturer who led the study, said: “Many of the symptoms described by women...include fatigue, abdominal pain or subtle changes in urination or the bowels. With those, quite simply ovarian cancer doesn’t spring to the GP’s mind. Unquestionably, some women have their cancer missed and have to return, sometimes repeatedly.

“Ovarian cancer is not a ‘silent killer’ — it is just not being heard.”

The study comes as figures also released today show that ovarian cancer rates are falling, which has been attributed to more women taking the Pill, which can protect against the disease.

The decreasing use of hormone replacement therapy could also be a factor in the drop of nearly 20 per cent in the cancer among women in their 50s and early 60s since 1998, Cancer Research UK said. Although the number of diagnosed cases has not changed significantly, the population has increased, leading to declining rates, the charity said.

Dr Hamilton added that fewer than 1 per cent of women with any of the symptoms in the guidance for urgent referral would have ovarian cancer. Yet, for abdominal distension, this figure was more than twice as high.

“A 2.5 per cent risk of ovarian cancer with abdominal distension clearly warrants investigation,” the report says. “This symptom was also reported by over a third of women [with the cancer].”

Annwen Jones, the chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said that a recent study by the charity found that 80 per cent of GPs thought wrongly that women with early-stage disease had no symptoms.

Ovarian cancer can run in families, and more than 50 per cent of cases occur in women over the age of 65. But more than a third of women with cancer waited more than six months from first visiting their GP to getting their diagnosis, she added.

The five-year survival rate, at 30 per cent, is one of the lowest in the Western world.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We recognise that we need to improve awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer among the public and GPs and that is why we launched the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative in November 2008. The BMJ study, which looks at cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed before the initiative was launched, supports the need for action.”

And, just for your interest – I never had any symptoms apart from extreme exhaustion, urinary frequency and distended belly and my periods went from 6 to 10 days…no bowel problems, no pain at all. So girls, get OUT there – if you have any symptoms, get your GP to get with the programme – better to have a scan and the worry of what 'might be', than the horror of what can be…


  1. I had mild fatigue (really only "lack of energy"), urinary frequency day and night, mild discomfort under the bottom right rib when lying down. AND I thought I was getting "middle age spread" for my tummy. Began wearing a girdle for first time in 20 years. How come doctors don't palpate the abdomen to search for ascites? Both while standing and while lying flat? I'm OVCA III-C, diagnosed Jan 09. Post chemo. Supposedly in remission. Feeling better than I did a year ago.

  2. Thank you so much for that comprehensive overview. It would be so easy to overlook some of the symptoms you describe.

  3. they are easy to overlook - and I also thought my bloated tummy was 'middle age spread' [at 46? I was insane...] and that the fatigue was work related.

  4. Preach it! My drs ignored my signs!

  5. BTW, I am sharing your post! Others need to read it!

  6. Denise - feel free! the more that read it, the better! :o)

  7. I had periods that lasted upto 14 days but prior to that very heavy and painful ones and was told i had a pelvic infection!
    2 years on i get told i have Ovarian Cancer!! and to top it all Cervical Cancer too and i had regular smear checks too!

    I echo L'Optimiste on this and say GET CHECKED xx

  8. I had another weird thing prior to being diagnosed. I became borderline iron deficiency anemic. I'm a blood donor and attributed it to that. Doc had me take a one-a-day vitamin with iron for a couple months and that seemed to clear it up. Of course, I stopped donating blood. I attributed it to age. (Attributed my large abdomen to that as well.) But I wonder now, looking back,if the anemia wasn't a symptom and possibly brought about by the growth of the cancer. Just a thought. There was no other explanation for it. And haven't been anemic since.

  9. Unexplained iron deficiency anemia can indeed be an early symptom. Found this article.


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