March 2015 is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month during which the importance of early diagnosis and treatment to save lives is highlighted by a number of cancer charities and the media. 

Unfortunately, the non-specific nature of the symptoms can often present a challenge to doctors when diagnosing ovarian cancer. The media recently covered the inspiring story of Sadie Rance, a young woman, who diagnosed her own ovarian cancer using a Google search after she was misdiagnosed with suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It was not until her symptoms persisted and she turned to the internet for answers when she discovered that her symptoms coincided with nearly all the signs of ovarian cancer. 

As a result of her research, Sadie returned to her doctors and requested more tests. These further tests revealed that she had very advanced ovarian cancer and, sadly, due to the delay in diagnosis, her doctors have advised that her prognosis is very poor and she only has one to two years to live. The key to improve survival rates therefore is to understand the symptoms of ovarian cancer and seek medical advice as early as possible if you have any concerns about any symptoms out of the ordinary for you. 

Unfortunately, as Sadie’s story highlights, symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognise as the symptoms are often similar to less serious conditions such IBS or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) which can lead to misdiagnosis and a delay in treatment. In light of this, guidance has been issued to medical practitioners to help assess when women should be investigated for ovarian cancer. 

NICE guidelines recommend that, if a woman has the following symptoms and they last for a month or more or occur on at least 12 days in a month, they should see their GP to be checked for ovarian cancer: 

  • Feeling bloated
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • Pain or discomfort in the lower tummy area and/or back
  • Needing to pass urine more often or more urgently. 

Furthermore, NICE guidance also states that, if a woman over the age of 50 develops symptoms similar to IBS, she should be offered tests by her GP for ovarian cancer. This is because it is unusual for a woman over 50 to develop IBS if she has not had it before. 

Emma Beeson, associate in the clinical negligence team, notes: “We act for a number of clients whose cancer diagnosis has been delayed despite having symptoms for some time. As this article highlights, given that the symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be misdiagnosed as other less serious conditions, it is crucial that patients return to their GP if symptoms persist so that the potential cause of the symptoms can be re-assessed. Like with most diseases, the key to survival is early diagnosis.” 

Click here to learn more about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.