Alison, a woman who shared her story with Target Ovarian Cancer

UK women facing fatal delays in ovarian cancer diagnosis

Time is running out: women's lives are being lost because of delays in ovarian cancer diagnosis, according to our new report.

Text reads 'It's time to TAKE OVAR. Demand earlier diagnosis now.' with a headshot of Alison as part of Target Ovarian Cancer's TAKE OVAR campaign

Women's lives are being lost because of delays in ovarian cancer diagnosis, according to our new report: 'Time is running out: The need for early diagnosis in ovarian cancer' [PDF].

The contrast is stark. A woman with an early stage diagnosis of ovarian cancer has an over 90 per cent chance of surviving the disease. Yet one in five women (20 per cent) are too ill to receive any treatment by the time they finally receive a diagnosis, and a third of women (32 per cent) die within a year of their diagnosis. 

Our latest report highlights the way that lives are needlessly being lost due to lost time: the time it takes for a woman to visit her GP, the time it takes for a GP to consider ovarian cancer as a potential diagnosis, and the time it takes to carry out diagnostic tests. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We're calling on UK governments to commit to action. 

What needs to be done?

Our report highlights four areas where governments must act now:

  • The postcode lottery must end: Where someone lives can make a substantial difference to how early they are diagnosed. World-leading practice must be extended to all the UK, eradicating areas of poor practice. We're calling for government-funded audits in every nation to track diagnosis and treatment, and identify best practice.
  • Women need to know the symptoms: There is no effective screening tool for ovarian cancer. Symptoms awareness is vital so that women know they need to visit the GP with concerns. Yet three in 10 (27 per cent) of women wait three months or more before seeing their GP, which is lost time. We're calling for publicly funded ovarian cancer awareness campaigns in every UK nation.
  • GPs need to understand ovarian cancer: Nearly half (44 per cent) of GPs believe ovarian cancer symptoms only present in the later stages of the disease, but nine out of 10 (86 per cent) women with early-stage ovarian cancer report symptoms. Ovarian cancer can, and should, be caught early. We provide education and training for GPs. We intend to reach every GP to ensure no time is lost in referring women for vital tests.
  • The diagnostic pathway needs to be shortened: In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, key diagnostic tests (the CA125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound) are not carried out at the same time and that could mean more delays. In Scotland they are done concurrently. We're calling on the government to shorten the diagnostic pathway in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as there is no time to lose when testing for cancer.

Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said:

Time is of the essence when facing a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. The countless delays women currently experience are completely unacceptable. Target Ovarian Cancer has been at the forefront of efforts to improve diagnosis and save lives, but time is running out. What we urgently need right now is concerted action by governments across the UK to address these atrocious delays in diagnosis. Together, we can stop women needlessly dying from this disease.

Alison Farmer, 59, was diagnosed with stage I ovarian cancer and is the face of Target Ovarian Cancer’s ‘Time is running out’ report. She said:

When I first experienced symptoms I knew something was wrong. I went straight to the GP and had to push for diagnostic tests because they wanted to pass it off as something that happened to all women. An ultrasound scan found what turned out to be early stage ovarian cancer. I’m still here to tell my story 18 years later because of that early diagnosis. I want that for all women, and those that haven't had that opportunity.

Seema Flower lost her mum Savarn Lata to ovarian cancer and also features in the report. She said:

Mum visited her GP on several occasions with bloating and tummy pain, both symptoms of ovarian cancer. She was finally diagnosed with ovarian cancer nearly three years after first visiting her GP. She had some treatment but her cancer was too advanced for it to make a huge difference. She should not have faced these delays getting a diagnosis. This has to change for other women.