Why is Ovarian Cancer Often Misdiagnosed?

  1. Symptoms are mistakenly or negligently associated with other conditions

Many symptoms of ovarian cancer are often associated with menopausal bleeding or a digestive condition.  Therefore women presenting with these symptoms often receive a diagnosis of:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Diverticulitis
  • Menopause related
  1. GP’s are negligent in spotting the signs of ovarian cancer
  • Many GPs negligently overlook the signs of ovarian cancer and this is a factor in 41 per cent of women reporting the need to visit their GP 3 times or more before being referred for diagnostic tests.
  • 44 per cent of GPs mistakenly believe symptoms only present in the later stages of ovarian cancer
  1. Women are often unaware of the symptoms

Mr Andy Nordin, President of the British Gynaecological Cancer Society and Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist at the East Kent Gynaecological Centre, said:

“We have been aware for over 20 years that survival from ovarian cancer in the UK is poor in comparison with many developed countries. Too many women do not know they have ovarian cancer until they are admitted to hospital extremely unwell, and by this time many are not well enough to cope with our treatments.  We must all work together to diagnose this disease earlier.”

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said:

“This is heartbreaking news for women and their families who have battled for a diagnosis and may have faced delays along the way. To finally meet a surgeon or consultant only to discover that it’s too late for treatment is devastating, and a tragic and needless waste of a person’s life. We must all redouble our efforts in this area. The government’s long term plan for the NHS must include plans to eliminate delays and improve early diagnosis in ovarian cancer.”

Clinical Guidelines

Because of the rates of misdiagnosis of ovarian cancer, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence  (NICE) and

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network  (SIGN) clinical guidelines advise that:

NICE gives clear guidance on how to manage symptomatic women:

  • If physical examination identifies ascites and/or a pelvic or abdominal mass, refer urgently to gynae-oncology.
  • Women reporting persistent or frequent symptoms highly indicative of ovarian cancer should be given a serum CA125 test, particularly if they are age 50 or over.
  • Women age 50 or over presenting with new onset IBS should be given a serum CA125 test.
  • If the CA125 is greater than 35 IU/ml arrange an urgent ultrasound scan of the abdomen and pelvis.
  • If the ultrasound suggests ovarian cancer then the woman should be referred to gynae-oncology

Untreated ovarian cancer can spread throughout the body into other organs and in its advanced stage it is very difficult to treat and can be fatal. Nearly two thirds of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have late stage disease at the point of diagnosis.

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