A patient with ovarian cancer has said she was “fobbed off” by family doctors, as a new report warns of a postcode lottery in diagnosis.
Jennie Allen, 57, from south west London, was told she had a bladder infection and food intolerances, before finally being sent for tests and being diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer.
Her story comes as the charity Target Ovarian Cancer publishes a report warning of a postcode lottery in the early diagnosis of ovarian cancer across England.
The disease, which kills more than 4,000 women in the UK each year, can be difficult to detect due to symptoms which are vague, such as bloating and fatigue.
The new report, which looked at the performance of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England, found that some diagnosed just 29% of ovarian cancer at early stages one and two.
The England average is 42%, with the top performing CCGs managing 56%.
Ms Allen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013 after a series of delays, saying she was “fobbed off”.
She said: “Despite a complex gynaecological history, my GP first sent me for tests for IBS, a bladder infection, then to see if I had coeliac disease.
“At this point I was frustrated, and went to see another doctor for a second opinion, and insisted on having a CA125 blood test.
“From there, I had ultrasound scans and found out I had advanced ovarian cancer.
“Too many women get fobbed off and told they have bladder infections, IBS, that it’s to do with the menopause. This must change.”
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include persistent bloating, feeling full quickly and/or losing appetite, pelvic or abdominal pain and needing to urinate more often or more urgently.
How can lives be saved?
Rebecca Rennison, director of public affairs and services at the charity, said: “Target Ovarian Cancer is determined that every woman should receive the earliest diagnosis possible.
“If we can achieve the Government’s ambition of three-quarters of women diagnosed with early stage disease, it would be a breakthrough comparable to the first introduction of chemotherapy or mapping of the human genome.
“It would be truly transformative and would see thousands of lives saved. We look forward to working with the government and the NHS to make this vision a reality and to write the next chapter in the fight against ovarian cancer.”
Another charity, Ovarian Cancer Action, said a new poll of 1,038 women found 70% would hope general health symptoms such as bloating or fatigue would go away.
Some 65% of women also said they would prioritise their children, partner and parents’ health before their own.
Anna Szalay was a second-year law student balancing lectures with a part-time job when she began experiencing symptoms such as back pain, bloating and fatigue.
She saw a number of healthcare professionals before being diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer aged 19.
She said: “It took me so long to get diagnosed because I didn’t know the symptoms and neither did a lot of healthcare professionals.
“It only takes a minute to learn the symptoms but they can save someone’s life.”
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
The most common symptoms are:
- feeling constantly bloated
- a swollen tummy
- discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area
- feeling full quickly when eating
- needing to pee more often than normal.
But other symptoms can include:
- persistent indigestion or nausea
- pain during sex
- a change in your bowel habits
- back pain
- vaginal bleeding – particularly bleeding after the menopause
- feeling tired all the time
- unintentional weight loss.
What causes ovarian cancer?
The exact cause of ovarian cancer is unknown but there are some things that may increase the chances of a woman getting it. These include:
- being over 50
- a family history of ovarian or breast cancer – this could mean you've inherited genes that increase your cancer risk
- hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – although any increase in cancer risk is likely to be very small
- endometriosis – a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb
- being overweight.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
There are two main treatments for ovarian cancer.
One is to undergo surgery, which often involves removing both ovaries, the womb and the fallopian tubes.
The other is chemotherapy, where medicine is used to kill cancer cells. This is usually done after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells but can be used beforehand as well to shrink the cancer.