Understanding Ovarian Cancer: Long Waits, Inequalities, and the Path Forward
Ovarian cancer, often called the “silent killer,” poses significant challenges in terms of diagnosis and treatment. The 2022 Pathfinder Report from “Target Ovarian Cancer” revealed some sobering statistics, highlighting the long waiting times, inequalities, and the urgent need for change.
Unveiling the Statistics
Did you know that over 25% of women have to see their GP at least three times before being referred for tests for ovarian cancer? Shockingly, around 1 in 3 women wait over three months from their first GP visit to receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Following diagnosis, 37% of women wait more than eight days for a CA125 blood test, and 55% wait at least eight days for an ultrasound.
Taking Action on Long Waiting Times
As of 6th January 2022, the Pathfinder report confirms that ovarian cancer has the second-longest treatment wait times of all cancers. On average, women with ovarian cancer wait a daunting 69 days for treatment, with only kidney cancer surpassing this wait time. The need for transformative changes in ovarian cancer diagnosis, treatment, and care is evident.
Long Waits Cause Uncertainty
The extended waiting period from GP referral to the commencement of treatment not only tests the patience of women with ovarian cancer, but also impacts their health. Prolonged waits often mean that people are more unwell when treatment finally begins. Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, emphasises that it’s imperative to remove barriers to excellent NHS care for everyone with ovarian cancer.
UK ovarian cancer survival rates are poor compared to other European countries
UK ovarian cancer survival rates in the first year of diagnosis lag behind other European countries, and this is due to the failure of getting patients diagnosed and into the referral system fast enough. Roughly 29% of women are only diagnosed after attending A&E.
The Race Against Time
A Slow Start
The harrowing reality is that a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be a death sentence. A woman diagnosed in the early stages has a remarkable over 90% chance of survival. However, one in five women find themselves too ill to receive treatment upon diagnosis, and a staggering one-third of women succumb to the disease within a year of diagnosis.
The Lost Time
This latest research exposes the heartbreaking truth: lives are needlessly lost due to lost time. It’s the time it takes for a woman to visit her GP, the time it takes for a GP to consider ovarian cancer, and the time it takes for diagnostic tests. Every minute matters in this battle.
Ending the Postcode Lottery
Another one of the glaring issues contributing to the UK’s poor ovarian cancer survival rates is the postcode lottery. Where you live can make a substantial difference in how early you are diagnosed. The UK must adopt world-leading practices nationwide, eradicating areas of poor practice.
Unlike some cancers, there is no effective screening tool for ovarian cancer. Symptom awareness is a vital piece of the puzzle. Women need to know the signs and symptoms that should prompt them to visit their GP. Shockingly, three in ten women wait three months or more before seeking medical attention. This highlights the need for publicly funded ovarian cancer awareness campaigns across the UK to combat this delay.
Another significant hurdle is the lack of understanding among general practitioners (GPs). Nearly half of GPs believe ovarian cancer symptoms only manifest in later stages, but a whopping 86% of women with early-stage ovarian cancer report symptoms. Early detection is possible and essential. Education and training for GPs is essential on this issue, to ensure swift referrals for vital tests.
Shortening the Diagnostic Pathway
Inconsistencies in diagnostic procedures also contribute to delays. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, key diagnostic tests—the CA125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound—are not performed simultaneously, potentially causing further delays. In contrast, Scotland conducts these tests concurrently. There is no room for delays when testing for cancer.
The poor ovarian cancer survival rates in the UK are a cause for concern and action. Lives hang in the balance, and every moment counts. By addressing the postcode lottery, increasing symptom awareness, educating GPs, and streamlining the diagnostic pathway, we can make significant strides in improving survival rates and offering hope to those affected.