A woman is comforted by a GP in the GP's office

Women are missing crucial cancer knowledge

Today we've released new research on how much women know about breast cancer and ovarian cancer symptoms.

Just 20 per cent of UK women can name bloating as a key ovarian cancer symptom. Over three times more (71 per cent of GB women) can name a lump (in the breast, armpit or generally) as a key symptom of breast cancer. Women’s lives are at risk because they do not know these important symptoms.

Breast and ovarian cancer combined kill more than 40 women every day and getting an early diagnosis is a must – one in five women with ovarian cancer are too ill to treat by the time they are diagnosed. Breast cancer symptoms appear to be far better known than ovarian cancer symptoms, but for many women, that knowledge does not extend beyond simply being able to name a lump in the breast.

If women are not equipped to spot cancer symptoms they are more likely to be diagnosed late, when the cancer is harder to treat, and they are less likely to survive.

Amy Van Wyk, 37 from Epsom, said:

Before my diagnosis I knew how to check for breast cancer, but couldn’t name one symptom of ovarian cancer. When I started needing to wee more often and then feeling full very quickly, I went along to the GP several times but never thought it could be ovarian cancer. In the end I went to a new GP when I moved house, and they were the first to send me for a blood test, which led to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. It came as a shock to the whole family, and now I want more women to know the symptoms so they can see their doctor if they are worried.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent bloating - not bloating that comes and goes
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary symptoms - needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual

The symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

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

Early diagnosis is the holy grail in ovarian cancer, and awareness campaigns have the power to save lives. It is completely unacceptable that women lack this knowledge. I want every person at risk of breast and ovarian cancer to sit up and ask themselves, do I know these symptoms? The way things are at the moment is untenable.

Kris Hallenga, founder of breast cancer awareness charity, CoppaFeel!, said:

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of any cancer and checking regularly is so important. Getting to know your body and what's normal for you will help you be more aware of any changes you see happening in your body. And if you notice something persisting, something not quite right, visit your GP.

Public Health England has no new Be Clear on Cancer national awareness campaigns planned – even after evaluation results show that awareness campaigns work. Future campaigns have the potential to not only fix the disparity between ovarian cancer and breast cancer knowledge, but also empowering women to visit their GP if they’re worried about symptoms of either disease.