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Reproductive and gynaecological health 2019

Ovarian cancer – awareness of the symptoms is crucial

Dr Sharon Tate, Head of Primary Care Development at Target Ovarian Cancer

Eleven women die every day from ovarian cancer in the UK. There is no screening and one in five women is too ill to treat by the time they receive a diagnosis, so raising awareness of the disease and its symptoms is key. Target Ovarian Cancer’s campaign ‘It’s time to TAKE OVAR’ aims to accelerate change and transform the future of more than 25,000 people living with the disease and thousands more yet to be diagnosed.

This March, for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we’re working hard to raise awareness and save lives. Here’s how:

A national campaign is needed

Target Ovarian Cancer is calling for a government-funded symptoms awareness campaign to educate women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Awareness is alarmingly low, with just one in five women able to name bloating as one of the key symptoms of the disease. Our recent research shows that the same proportion of women wrongly think a smear test can detect ovarian cancer. In reality, there is no screening for the disease, and awareness of the symptoms is crucial for women.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent bloating, not bloating that comes and goes
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual

Solving the problem of late diagnosis

There is huge variation in diagnosis of ovarian cancer across the UK. In some parts of England, over half of women are diagnosed at an early stage, which makes the disease easier to treat. In other areas, just one in five women is diagnosed early. Some of this may be due to population differences such as age, but we know that more work needs to be done to ensure women go to the GP if they are worried, and are sent for the correct diagnostic tests without delays in the system.

We need to tackle delays in diagnosis

Delayed diagnoses are a major reason that two thirds of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread. Delays are often due to women not knowing the symptoms and not thinking it is urgent to visit their GP, gaps in GP knowledge and misdiagnosis, and delays in getting the right diagnostic tests. The effect of all of this means some women are simply too ill by the time they receive their diagnosis to be able to withstand the invasive surgery and chemotherapy needed to treat ovarian cancer.

Late diagnosis is a complex problem that needs a multipronged approach if we are to improve the outlook for women with ovarian cancer.

Futureproofing ovarian cancer diagnosis

Educating GPs and GP practice nurses is an essential part of solving this puzzle. Target Ovarian Cancer’s primary care programme challenges healthcare professionals to set aside their misconceptions about ovarian cancer and skills them up in best practice so more of them can diagnose ovarian cancer earlier.

This includes online learning modules that count towards GPs’ and nurses’ professional development, and a GP toolkit to support GPs and general practice nurses to update their knowledge and deliver the right diagnostic tests at the right time. Collaboration with leading educational partners puts ovarian cancer on the agenda at GP conferences and learning days.

It is crucial that ovarian cancer diagnosis guidelines for GPs stay relevant, accessible to the GP and flexible. For example, GPs must now consider ovarian cancer if any women over 50 is having new bladder problems or new IBS-like symptoms. These changes are part of Target Ovarian Cancer’s ongoing work to support primary care professionals.

Together, we will accelerate change and transform the futures of more than 25,000 who are living with the disease and thousands more who will be diagnosed.

Our support line

Target Ovarian Cancer is the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, working to improve early diagnosis, fund life-saving research and provide much-needed support to women with ovarian cancer.

Target Ovarian Cancer’s nurse-led support line provides information, support and signposting for anyone affected by ovarian cancer. It provides a safe place to discuss concerns, from symptoms to diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

Anyone affected by ovarian cancer can contact the support line on 020 7923 5475 or get in touch at

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