One in five women (20%) in England is too ill to treat by the time they receive their ovarian cancer diagnosis, according to new data.
The charity Target Ovarian Cancer warned that delays in diagnosis are common in ovarian cancer and can leave too many women reaching hospital cancer specialists when it is too late.
These delays, which include women not recognising the symptoms, gaps in GP knowledge, and delays in getting the right diagnostic tests, can mean women are too ill by the time they receive their diagnosis to be able to withstand the invasive surgery and chemotherapy needed to treat ovarian cancer.
The charity said this is putting women at risk of being denied a choice in their treatment, and leaving many facing no other option than palliative or end-of-life care.
The new statistics are part of the Get Data Out project aimed at making more data on less common cancers, such as ovarian cancer, publicly available.
Target Ovarian Cancer worked with Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS), which provided figures for analysis.
Emma Richman, 47, from Poole, Dorset, lost her mother Linda, 64, to ovarian cancer just six weeks after she was diagnosed, and before any significant treatment could be given.
Ms Richman said: “I remember vividly the hospital appointment where my mum Linda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“The consultant said that it wasn’t good news, and that my mum had stage 4 ovarian cancer, incurable.
“I was so upset. My mum was really brave and kept asking questions. I stayed positive around Mum but at night I cried, worrying if it was too late.
“Devastatingly Mum passed away six weeks after this appointment, with her family by her side. She had just celebrated her 64th birthday.”
Andy Nordin, president of the British Gynaecological Cancer Society and consultant gynaecological oncologist at 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.”
Chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer Annwen Jones 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.”