09:42pm Monday 18 November 2019

Women Spurred Into Action by Ovarian Cancer Action GP Awareness Campaign

A new Ovarian Cancer Action survey shows that its GP Symptoms Awareness Campaign has spurred more women into recognising and reporting symptoms of ovarian cancer and GPs are referring more women for tests as a direct result.  The charity undertook the survey to evaluate the success of its GP mailing pack.

The charity has run its campaign to educate primary healthcare workers in GP surgeries since 2008.  Later that same year, the Department of Health consulted with the UK’s leading ovarian cancer stakeholders – including Ovarian Cancer Action – and produced a set of agreed key symptoms, which are common in women diagnosed with the disease which Ovarian Cancer Action then incorporated into its campaign.

15% of Practice Nurses responding to the survey said that there had been an increase in patients reporting symptoms as a result of the campaign, 15% also said that there had been an increase in referrals for diagnostic tests.  This figure was mirrored by 15% of women responding with their own feedback to the campaign, via tear-off slips from the symptoms awareness leaflets in surgeries between April and July this year.  These women spoke to their GP about their own symptoms and were then referred for tests as a direct result of reading the leaflet.

Research indicates that symptoms occur in the early stages of the disease. However, because they are similar to those caused by common, less serious conditions, the disease is regularly misdiagnosed, often for gastrointestinal or abdominal conditions.  Ovarian cancer symptoms will be persistent, frequent and new to the individual.
The importance of symptoms awareness amongst both women and healthcare professionals is crucial as there is currently no screening programme in the UK.  In excess of 90% of women will survive longer than five years if diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the earliest stages, but that figure drops dramatically to 40% with a later diagnosis.  A recent international benchmarking study showed that UK women are still more likely to receive late diagnosis of ovarian cancer than women in other comparable countries, and because of that, they are more likely to die in the first year after diagnosis1. 

Simon Denegri, CEO of Ovarian Cancer Action said: “Our campaign means that more women are referring themselves, getting an earlier diagnosis and increasing their chances of survival.  Symptoms awareness provides women with the best possible safety net for ovarian cancer.  We’ll continue the campaign so that year on year the figure for referrals continues to rise and will replicate the materials in other languages.”

“We are very thankful to Practice Nurses for responding to our survey – it is important feedback.”

The GP Symptoms Awareness Campaign incorporates information packs comprising of a covering letter, a Department of Health key message document, a symptoms poster and 30 symptoms awareness leaflets for display.  In 2011 information packs were sent to 10716 GP practices – including all NHS surgeries, private, armed services, and prison practices.  (Packs were also sent to Macmillan Information Centres; private hospitals and health centres; and Morrison’s, ASDA pharmacies and Sykes Chemists and W A Salter Chemists.)

A data repository to track the stage of women’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer would help gauge the efficacy of awareness campaigns.


Notes to Editors:


GP Awareness Campaign Survey

To evaluate the effectiveness of the GP symptoms awareness campaign, a questionnaire was addressed to the lead practice nurse in 10,716 GP practices.  A total of 522 practice nurses responded, 504 through paper format, and 13 through an online questionnaire set up via an online survey.

·         88% of practice nurses placed the leaflets on display in surgery so that they were accessible to patients

·         97% of practice nurses considered the poster to be very good or good

·         15% of practice nurses who responded felt that the mailing had contributed to an increase in patients reporting symptoms, 14% felt that it had made no difference and 66% were unsure.

·         A further 15%of respondents reported that there had been an increase in referrals for appropriate ovarian cancer investigations following the mailing of the symptom leaflets.  As a result of this more women could have earlier detection of the disease.  25% of respondents felt that there had been no change in referral rates, and 52% were unsure

·         Respondents identified that the five most relevant languages to their practice, in order of preference after English, were Polish, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and Chinese


Ovarian cancer symptoms

If women present the following symptoms on most days, it is important that ovarian cancer is considered:


·         Persistent pelvic and stomach pain.

·         Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes.

·         Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly.


Occasionally other symptoms such as urinary symptoms, changes in bowel habit, extreme fatigue or back pain may also be experienced on their own or at the same time as those listed above.


Key Facts:

·         Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, and the biggest gynaecological killer in the UK

·         Every year, 6,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer

·         Only 40% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will survive five years beyond a diagnosis

·         A women dies every two hours from the disease

·         Early diagnosis is crucial – 90% of women will survive if they are diagnosed at the earliest stage

·         80% of women do not know that ovarian cancer has symptoms


There is currently no proven national screening tool for ovarian cancer.  Women often mistakenly believe ovarian cancer will be detected by a cervical smear. University College London (UCL) is currently conducting a research trial into the effectiveness of rolling out a programme of testing all women using the CA125 blood test and ultrasound to screen for ovarian cancer.  They will report their findings in 2014.  GPs are currently advised to refer women with symptoms for a CA125 blood test and a trans-vaginal ultrasound.


Ovarian Cancer Action

Ovarian Cancer Action[1] is the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, dedicated to improving survival rates for women with ovarian cancer.  It funds innovative research into the disease at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre; raises awareness of the symptoms with national awareness campaigns aimed at women and healthcare workers; and gives a voice to those affected by it, acting as an  advocate with policymakers, healthcare professionals and scientists.

Ovarian Cancer Action funds a broad range of research to achieve accurate and early detection of ovarian cancer, more effective treatments as well as preventative measures to combat the disease.


Funding for Ovarian Cancer Action GP Symptoms Awareness Campaign

The Department of Health provided funding for the first year of the campaign in 2008 in England and Wales, with funding for Scotland coming from the Scottish Government, the Moffat Charitable Trust and the Miss Agnes H Hunters Trust for the first three years from 2009-2011.  Ovarian Cancer Action has continued to fund the campaign across England, Wales and since 2009 and brought the campaign to Northern Ireland since 2010 with support from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity; The Leathersellers’ Company; The C Charitable Trust and The Steel Charitable Trust


For more information contact: Tania Pearson on 0300 456 4706 and tpearson@ovarian.org.uk.  GP information packs can be obtained by ringing 0300 456 4700.

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