Simple blood test could save hundreds from ovarian cancer

A £20 blood test given to women with suspected ovarian cancer could save hundreds of lives a year, experts said yesterday.

Almost 7,000 women develop ovarian cancer annually, but unlike breast cancer, where more than two thirds survive five years, nearly two thirds of women with ovarian cancer die within five years.

Late diagnosis is the main cause of the high death rate – ovarian cancer is known as the "silent killer" because by the time it is detected the disease is often far advanced.

In the first guidelines for GPs on the disease issued today, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) dismisses the "misconception" that its symptoms are vague and says doctors should offer a blood test to women at risk.

Swift diagnosis aided by the blood test could help save up to 500 women's lives a year if Britain matched the average survival rates of other European countries, figures show.

Ovarian cancer is the fourth biggest cancer killer of women, after lung, bowel and breast cancer. But if diagnosed early, nine in 10 sufferers can be treated successfully.

Fergus Macbeth, of Nice, said: "The outcomes for ovarian cancer are not as good as for other cancers in women. We do not seem to do as well as other European countries. Its symptoms are considered vague, and so can be confused with other conditions. This misconception can lead to many women... being diagnosed once the cancer is at an advanced stage. The stage at diagnosis is the most important factor in predicting survival."

The guidelines list four warning signs of ovarian cancer: bloating, feeling full quickly, pelvic pain, and urgent need to urinate, which, if persistent more than 12 times a month, should lead doctors to offer a blood test.

The test measures the level of a protein called CA125 in the blood, and is 50 per cent accurate in diagnosing early cases and 80 per cent accurate for advanced cases.

Specialists admitted that the test could give women false reassurance if the result was negative and they later turned out to have the cancer. GPs are urged to monitor the symptoms, and if they persist, refer the woman for an ultrasound scan which provides a more definitive diagnosis of the potential problem.

Sean Duffy, medical director of the Yorkshire Cancer Network who led development of the guideline, said: "There isn't a perfect test out there. We are trying to improve a system that is far from good. If the test is negative and the symptoms persist, they will need further investigation which will normally involve an ultrasound test. If the blood test and ultrasound are negative, they are unlikely to have ovarian cancer."

The extra costs of testing women in general practice are likely to be offset by savings from inappropriate tests currently carried out, he said.

Frances Reid, a member of the group that developed the guidelines and director for public affairs at the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: "Poor early diagnosis in Britain is strongly linked to poor survival rates. Up to 500 women's lives a year could be saved if only we matched the average survival rates in other European countries."

Case study: 'I had no idea about my tumour'

Linda Facey, 53

The former care home inspector was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001. After her stomach swelled, her GP in Gosport, Hampshire, diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome. "He was a lovely man, not dismissive, and kept me coming back four times in seven weeks. But between us we did not pick up the symptoms of ovarian cancer," she said.

By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer was stage three: advanced. She had four courses of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy until she was declared free of symptoms in 2007.

"My experience highlights the importance of paying attention to the symptoms. We shouldn't put concerns about our bodies on the back burner," she said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

    £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory