Sufferers fail to recognise deadly symptoms

Women are still ignorant about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and as a result death rates are high. Catherine Scott reports.

Needless deaths in Yorkshire and the Humber from UK’s deadliest gynaecological cancer could be halted by urgent Government action, says a leading charity after new research shows consistently woeful symptom awareness among women.

The Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012 revealed no change in important measures of women’s awareness compared to significant progress in GP awareness over the last three years.

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Only three per cent of the 1,004 women polled by Ipsos MORI, as part of the Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012, were very confident at recognising a symptom of ovarian cancer. This is unchanged from when the question was first asked three years ago.

The figure for Yorkshire and the Humber for the same question was in line with the national average, however, more reported feeling “not very confident” of noticing a symptom – at 55 per cent – compared to the UK average of 46 per cent.The latest statistics were published a year after a major international benchmarking study showed the UK has among the worst one-year survival rates for the disease in developed countries, a fact strongly linked to late diagnosis.

In the Humber and Yorkshire Coast area, the one-year survival rate is roughly in line with the UK average of 69.9 per cent.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer which commissioned the Pathfinder Study published as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, said: “Women are dying needlessly every day because they didn’t know the symptoms of this disease before they were diagnosed with advanced cancer.

“Had it have been caught at an earlier stage their chances of surviving five years would have almost doubled.

“The evidence is piling up. Women are being let down by the failure to act in the UK.

“We need a national awareness campaign now to end needless deaths from this disease. Of the 4,400 who die from ovarian cancer each year, 500 of those women would still be alive each year if we only match European survival rates.”

Rosalind Kirkwood, a primary school teacher from Brandesburton, East Yorkshire, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008 and now works hard to raise awareness of the condition amongst others.

“I have to admit that until I was diagnosed I didn’t know anything about ovarian cancer and the symptoms,” says the 57-year-old.

“I was pretty fit, running around five miles a day and then suddenly, while I was on holiday in August 2007 I started to feel unwell. My tummy was bloated all the time, and I was constantly needing to go to the toilet.”

Rosalind visited her GP who thought she was suffering from gastric problems, possibly an ulcer.

“But the symptoms just didn’t go away. I went back to my doctor a few weeks later; my stomach was so swollen I couldn’t do any of my clothes up.

“I’d had to stop running and I felt full all the time.”

She went for some blood tests and then a scan at Hull Royal Infirmary which revealed she was suffering from ovarian cancer.

“When you hear the word cancer you do think the worst but the staff at Hull were fantastic and really put me at my ease.”

Three weeks later Rosalind had a full hysterectomy, had her appendix removed and also tissue that surrounds the organs, as ovarian cancer has a high rate of spreading.

She then had six months of chemotherapy at Castle Hills Hospital where she still attends for check-ups.

“I was given a lot of help and support from Target Ovarian Cancer and now I deliver leaflets to my local GP surgeries to raise awareness as well as fund-raising for the charity. It is frightening how many women just aren’t aware of the symptoms.”

Tell-tale signs of sickness

Ovarian cancer symptoms are:

Frequent – usually more than 12 times a month.


New – they are not normal for you and may have started in the last year.

Signs to look out for are:

Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain (tummy and below).

Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating.

Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.

Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual).