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Earlier diagnosis of ovarian cancer is possible

Charity Target Ovarian Cancer is leading the way in addressing the ‘unacceptable’ variation in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer – which is currently failing women who are diagnosed too late.

Research co-funded by Target Ovarian Cancer showed that the proportion of women diagnosed at an early stage (I or II) varies from 22 per cent to 63 per cent across England. To target geographical variation, the charity designed and tested three digital interventions to address late diagnosis in an innovative project – Identifying and breaking down barriers to early diagnosis of ovarian cancer in primary care: Interventions and learnings.

The project worked collaboratively with primary care clinicians, data managers and cancer project leads to deliver the digital interventions – a clinical IT alert tool, a retrospective audit search and safety netting search – in primary care. The regional collaborations found that the focused interventions aimed to minimise late and/or misdiagnosis were effective, easy to implement and incorporate into routine practice and that ultimately both patient care and the diagnostic pathway can be improved.

Dr Neil Smith, GP and cancer director for Lancashire and South Cumbria, which took part in the pilot said: “By working collaboratively to eliminate clinical variation and remove barriers we can ensure more women receive the right diagnosis for ovarian cancer at the earliest possible stage. The NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria has implemented three innovative digital interventions which has led to faster diagnosis and more lives saved.”

11 women die every day from ovarian cancer and these digital interventions aim to reduce misdiagnosis and get women on the right referral pathway as soon as possible. They assist primary care teams to act confidently on possible ovarian cancer symptoms; to recall women with possible ovarian cancer symptoms who have not had a CA125 blood test; and to safety net women who have persistent symptoms but whose CA125 blood test results and ultrasound scan are reported as normal. The pilots further evidence that an innovative and collaborative approach could lead to effective earlier diagnosis.

Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive at Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Regional variation in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer is unacceptable, but we know that where there is regional variation, there’s room for improvement. One in seven women die within two months of diagnosis, often because the disease is too advanced and harder to treat.

“Through a combination of GP education and digital intervention tools we believe we can improve early diagnosis and save lives. This has been shown to be successful in our pilot areas.

“Some UK regions have ovarian cancer survival rates that match the best in the world, and yet we currently have one of the poorest average 5-year survival rates. It is both vital and urgent that action is taken to address regional variation in diagnosis and ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, has the earliest possible diagnosis and the best possible outcomes.”

The charity, which won the accolade of Most Inspiring Collaborations Awards from the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition for this project, is inviting all healthcare professionals passionate about improving early diagnosis to join the Target Ovarian Cancer Early Diagnosis Network. The network will be a place of collaboration and innovation.

This work would not have been possible without the generous funding from The Peter Sowerby Foundation.

To find out more about Identifying and breaking down barriers to early diagnosis of ovarian cancer in primary care: Interventions and learnings go to: www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/EarlyDiagnosis

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