Shortlisted resolution: A call to increase awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer

Every two hours in the UK someone dies of ovarian cancer. Making sure GPs and the public know what to look for will not only ensure the early detection and treatment of this disease, but transform lives today and for generations to come. NFWI calls on WI members everywhere to help increase awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer

The scale of the problem 

Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women, mainly affecting those who have been through the menopause. According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 7,500 new ovarian cancer cases in the UK each year, and 4,100 deaths.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer include: feeling constantly bloated; a swollen tummy; discomfort in your tummy or pelvic area; feeling full quickly when eating; and needing to pee more often than normal.

The earlier ovarian cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat and so public awareness and understanding of the symptoms is really important. Cancer Research UK states that when ovarian is diagnosed early, nine out of ten women will survive for five years or more. This compares to less than three in 20 women when diagnosed at the latest stage.

However, because the early signs of ovarian cancer are similar to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), it is often not diagnosed until it has spread and a cure is not possible. The latest data seemingly available (from 2017) shows that 48% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at a late stage (either stages III or IV).

The current situation

One of the main challenges to ensuring that people see their GP early is that many women do not feel confident that they could spot a symptom of ovarian cancer. A survey carried out by the charity Target Ovarian Cancer in 2016 with more than 1,300 women put this figure at 4%.

The NHS encourages people to see their GP if: 

  • you have been feeling bloated, particularly more than 12 times a month
  • you have other symptoms of ovarian cancer that will not go away
  • you have a family history of ovarian cancer and are worried you may be at a higher risk of getting it. 

In England, the number of urgent referrals for suspected cancer has fallen by 60% since the Covid-19 pandemic. Target Ovarian Cancer says that many women are worried about visiting GP surgeries with symptoms for fear of overburdening the GP, or coming into contact with the virus. 

Even before the pandemic, the charity says that most people with ovarian cancer were diagnosed once the disease had already spread, and so the need to raise awareness of the symptoms now is more important than ever. They have emphasised that, even during the pandemic, cancer diagnosis and treatment remains a priority. 

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