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Smear tests do not test for ovarian cancer – greater awareness needed to ensure early detection

This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and clinical negligence solicitor Frankie Rhodes and trainee solicitor Maya Grantham discuss the need for greater awareness to ensure the disease is detected early.

Ovarian cancer
Related Areas of Practice:
Frankie is a solicitor working with Claire Fazan in the clinical negligence department.

Frankie’s experience includes claims resulting from delays in diagnosis of cancer, failings in cardiac care and cases where failings in care resulted in death and stillbirth
The sooner a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer the greater her chances of surviving it, but statistics suggest that awareness of the disease is very low. Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month seeks to save lives by promoting awareness and raising funds to provide research, training to medical professionals, and services to women who have the disease.

Ovarian cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women over the age of 75, although the disease does occur in younger women too. Contrary to what some believe, smear tests do not test for ovarian cancer and so early detection of the symptoms is important.

Target Ovarian Cancer lists the following common symptoms of ovarian cancer:
  • Persistent bloating;
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite;
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain; and
  • Urinary symptoms (particularly needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual).

Although persistent bloating is a common symptom of ovarian cancer, only one in five women in the UK can name it as a symptom of the disease

The Every Woman Study Summary Report, produced by the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition in October 2018, reflects that a lack of awareness of the disease is a problem worldwide. Over two thirds of the women surveyed for the report had not heard of ovarian cancer or knew anything about it prior to their own diagnosis.
Unfortunately, the nature of the common symptoms means that subjects and medical practitioners can miss and confuse the disease for other common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

In December 2018 a report found that one in five women in the UK receive their diagnosis once it is too late to treat, and that over a quarter of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed through an emergency presentation. Not enough women are receiving their diagnosis from their GP following early detection of the symptoms.

How can you get involved?

Information about symptoms, tips for seeing your GP and details about how to get involved with Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month can be found on the Target Ovarian Cancer website

How can we help?

Awareness of the disease amongst the general population is a key component to avoiding further preventable deaths. However, instances of misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis demonstrate that more needs to be done to ensure that medical practitioners identify ovarian cancer at the first opportunity.

The clinical negligence team at Leigh Day represents patients who have experienced issues such as misread test results, delays in diagnosis of cancer and inappropriate advice on treatment options. The team is happy to provide initial advice and have an informal, no obligation, chat with anyone who has concerns about the care they have received in relation to diagnosis and management of any type of cancer.

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