A lack of awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer among both women and GPs is leading to more patients being diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease, findings from a Roche-sponsored study suggest.

Data from the Advanced Ovarian Cancer: Care & Treatment Experiences (ADVOCATE) study - which surveyed 66 UK oncologists and interviewed 202 patients across sixteen hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales - found that 21% of those interviewed were not satisfied with their GP’s symptom recognition, believing this had delayed their diagnosis. 

Before a diagnosis was made, more than a third of women suffered three or more symptoms that prompted a visit to the GP, a finding backed by a recent patient survey which found that 37% of patients had to see their GP at least twice before receiving a referral.

In the study, which was carried out by Sussex Health Outcomes Research & Education in Cancer (SHORE-C) at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, women said they also felt there was a lack of awareness generally in the public domain about ovarian cancer and its symptoms, which include abdominal swelling, abdominal pain and fatigue.

In addition, with regard to quality of life, 86% of patients said they would try a drug that improved their quality of life even if it had no survival benefit. On treatment priorities, 33% said quality of life, 9% length of life and 57% felt both were of equal importance.

One-third of patients felt that maintenance treatment was worthwhile if it gave them up to a couple of extra months of life, but just 3% of clinicians would offer a drug for this level of benefit.

The report's conclusions are particularly pertinent given that the UK has one of the highest incidences of ovarian cancer, as well as one of the highest mortality rates, with 85% of women diagnosed once the disease has already spread.

“The body of evidence now on delays to diagnosis is such that we believe it is imperative to address low awareness in both women and GPs across all nations in the UK as a matter of urgency," said Frances Reid, Director of Public Affairs at Target Ovarian Cancer, commenting on the findings.