CancerGPs face significant challenges in diagnosing the deadliest of the gynaecological cancers – ovarian cancer – according to Target Ovarian Cancer’s state-of-the-nation Pathfinder 2016 study.

Almost half of GPs (44%) continue to believe symptoms of ovarian cancer only present in the later stages of the disease. This is down from 79% in 2009, reflecting a rise in ovarian cancer awareness, and better access to GP education about the disease. Target Ovarian Cancer’s online GP learning and training modules on the symptoms of ovarian cancer aim to support GPs to recognise the early symptoms of ovarian cancer, or to rule it out as soon as possible. The modules have now been completed by over 17,000 GPs – over 40% of the GP population in the UK.

GPs were also asked about genetics and ovarian cancer. The two biggest risk factors for ovarian cancer are age and a family history of ovarian or breast cancer. While 93% of GPs say that family history on the mother’s side is important to consider, just 38% said family history on the father’s side is relevant. Mutations can pass down through either the father or mother, which is why a full family history is important. Target Ovarian Cancer’s newest online learning module helps GPs update their understanding of hereditary ovarian cancer, including the BRCA1 and 2 genes.

Pathfinder 2016 also found low rates of awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer among UK women, risking women waiting longer to visit their GP. Just one in five UK women (20 per cent) can name bloating as a major symptom of ovarian cancer, and just one third (36 per cent) went to see their GP within a month of symptoms starting. It is important for awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms to continue to rise, as early diagnosis makes the disease easier to treat.

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all the gynaecological cancers, with 15% of women dying within two months of being diagnosed, and only a third of women surviving 10 years after their diagnosis.

Now Target Ovarian Cancer and women with ovarian cancer across the UK are calling on government and health bodies to improve services and invest to secure the futures of women with ovarian cancer today and those diagnosed tomorrow. Investment is sorely needed, particularly in awareness-raising, to address the lack of cancer nurses, and to fund key research so more drugs and new therapies are available. The charity is also committing to increasing the reach of its award-winning GP modules.

Annwen Jones, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “GPs deserve better support so they are able to diagnose or rule out ovarian cancer promptly, particularly where women are presenting with abdominal symptoms that could be linked with other, less serious conditions. Our online education modules for GPs are already tackling this and we urge any GP who has not completed one to find out more on our website.”

Professor Debbie Sharp OBE, Professor of Primary Healthcare at the University of Bristol and member of the Pathfinder 2016 Advisory Panel, said: “That we are seeing such low awareness, both among the public and GPs, is of great concern. It is important that we act on this now, to give GPs the best chance of diagnosing ovarian cancer earlier, making it easier to treat.”

Ovarian cancer can be devastating. Every year 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK, and 4,100 women die from the disease.

Pathfinder 2016 is the most-comprehensive study of its kind into the lives of people living and working with ovarian cancer in the UK. It surveyed women in the general population, women with ovarian cancer, GPs, nurses, friends and family to provide a comprehensive assessment of how lives can be saved and improvements made. Pathfinder launched in parliament on 23 November. To find out more, visit www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/Pathfinder2016