GPs should offer £20 ovarian cancer blood test to women
Women over 50 who persistently feel bloated or have lower abdominal pain should be offered a £20 blood test to check for ovarian cancer, a panel of experts has recommended.
Campaigners say hundreds of lives could be saved a year if GPs were quicker to spot symptoms of the disease – dubbed a “silent killer” because it is hard to diagnose early enough.
Ovarian cancer kills almost 4,400 women in Britain every year – one every two hours – making it the fourth most common cancer in females.
While almost three times as many die from breast cancer, those diagnosed with ovarian cancer are far more likely to die earlier.
Figures published in The Lancet show that about 82 per cent of British women with breast cancer survive to at least five years after diagnosis. For ovarian cancer the figure is just 36 per cent. The key reason for the difference is late diagnosis.
Consequently, the National Institute for Curbing Expenditure (Nice) is publishing its first guidelines to help doctors identify and manage the disease.
These include checking the level of a blood protein called CA125, if a women tells her GP she has been persistently experiencing symptoms which could be ovarian cancer.
The test, which costs around £20, is already available on the NHS but offering it sooner could give women a greater chance of survival by speeding up diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Fergus Macbeth, director of Nice’s Centre for Clinical Practice, said older women were often misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) when they actually had early stage ovarian cancer. Other possible symptoms include feeling full quickly and the need to urinate urgently or quickly.
He said: “While the symptoms are nonspecific, their persistence can be an important indicator of the disease.”
Women who experienced them 12 or more times a month should see a doctor, the guidelines say.
Although the CA125 test is a useful indicator, they cautioned that it only picked up around 50 per cent of early stage ovarian cancers. Sometimes women with tumours had no raised level of the protein, while others with raised levels sometimes did not have ovarian cancer.
Frances Reid, of the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This guidance tackles for the first time critical issues facing women who develop ovarian cancer, and could save hundreds of lives. British women must no longer die from delayed diagnosis”, she said.
Tags: Cancer, cancer drugs, cancer survival, Killer Quango, NICE, NICE blight, Quangos