Call for action to detect ovarian cancer earlier
- 27 April 2011
- From the section Health
GPs should offer more blood tests to try to detect ovarian cancer earlier, according to new guidelines for the NHS.
Almost 7,000 UK women a year are diagnosed with the disease, but only about a third are still alive five years on.
NHS advisers want to see greater use of a blood test that measures a key protein, to improve early diagnosis.
Cancer charities have welcomed the guidelines for England and Wales.
They have been drawn up by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which makes recommendations on medicines and procedures in the NHS.
Key symptoms are bloating, lower abdominal pain, feeling full after eating only a small amount, and needing to urinate with increased frequency.
A member of the guideline group, Sean Duffy, from the Yorkshire Cancer Network, said: "The symptoms can be vague, but shouldn't be ignored if they are persistent.
"By persistent, we mean them occurring more than 12 times a month.
"The vast majority of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage, so we hope to see improvements in survival as a result of these guidelines.
"Sometimes doctors tell women they have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - but NICE has already produced guidelines to say this is unusual as a new diagnosis in women over 50."
The test, which measures a protein called CA125, costs about £20.
NICE says more testing will not be more expensive for the NHS in the long run, because it will save some women from having inappropriate investigations.
The blood test detects cancer only about half of the time - but experts believe using it more often, as well as ultrasound scans where necessary, and encouraging women to be more aware of the symptoms, will improve the UK's "disappointing" survival rate for ovarian cancer.
A consultant gynaecological oncologist, Mr Charles Redman, said: "This strategy won't be the perfect answer, but we think it will make a measurable difference.
"Trying to encourage women who might have ovarian cancer to present earlier will undoubtedly give the NHS challenges and mean changes for hospital doctors like myself.
"But the current situation is very poor. Other countries do better than us."
Dr Clare Gerada, of the Royal College of GPs, said: "This is not about increasing GPs' workloads - it is about working as effectively as possible with the tools available to us, to achieve the best possible outcomes for women."
Target Ovarian Cancer's public affairs director, Frances Reid, said: "This guidance could save hundreds of lives.
"It is now imperative to include ovarian cancer in the Department of Health's cancer awareness campaigns, so that women know to go and ask for these tests."
Ovarian Cancer Action's chief executive, Gilda Witte, said: "Significant progress has been made in improving survival figures for ovarian cancer over the last 10 years, but there is a long way to go in beating the disease."