Ovarian cancer from a GP’s perspective

From a GP’s perspective, I would much rather that a patient made an appointment with me to discuss their concerns about ovarian cancer than decide to wait and see. Make an appointment, even if you think it is nothing.
The issue is that bloating is a very common complaint from women of all ages, and it can be dismissed as unimportant. But persistent bloating, which lasts for longer than 12 days each month, should not be ignored since it can point to ovarian cancer. If women develop persistent bloating, they should tell a doctor and have further tests.

Unfortunately, doctors too may miss signs of ovarian cancer. It’s easy to see why. I have estimated, based on the patients I have treated over the last 20 years, that an average GP looking after 2000 patients will only see one case of ovarian cancer every two or three years. That is one case in 25,000 consultations. So, it is literally like searching for a needle in a haystack. The fact that the average length of a GP appointment is just over six minutes makes it harder still since there is very little time to take a family history, which would show if there were close family members who had also suffered from ovarian cancer, or breast cancer, which is linked to the same genetic mutation.

The fact that the average length of a GP appointment is just over six minutes makes it harder still since there is very little time to take a family history, which would show if there were close family members who had also suffered from ovarian cancer, or breast cancer, which is linked to the same genetic mutation.

It is important that both female patients and doctors work together to ensure that more cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed early. Women need to know the four key symptoms, persistent bloating, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and/or a feeling of fullness and need for frequent urination. They need to take their concerns to their doctor. ‘Do you think it might be this?’ I’ve never had any problems with my patients doing some research of their own on the internet before they come and see me. It is also important that women don’t tag this concern onto an appointment for something different entirely. You can’t expect to bring up four health complaints in one appointment and expect the doctor to successfully deal with them all.

Doctors need to listen more and keep an open mind. It might just be ovarian cancer which is early stage and curable if steps are taken right away. GPs can update their knowledge of ovarian cancer with Target Ovarian Cancer’s free, accredited online learning tools.
Awareness of ovarian cancer is low, both among women and GPs, with two thirds of women diagnosed once the cancer has already spread. Enough is enough. It’s time to TAKE OVAR. Join us to raise awareness, fund research and save lives.

Dr Vincent Rawcliffe

Dr Vincent Rawcliffe

Dr Vincent Rawcliffe is a GP based in Hull and is a member of the GP Advisory Board for the charity Target Ovarian Cancer.
Dr Vincent Rawcliffe

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annamariedec

Thank you for this article. My hope is we get a screening test for the general public soon. I have been hoping that for 17 years. You should know about a great educational program, Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives, sponsored by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance. Ovarian cancer survivors are trained to tell their diagnosis stories to third-year medical students in medical schools in the United States, Canada, England and Australia, as well as nursing and physician assistant schools. The idea is to put a face to the disease and for these doctors-to-be to keep ovarian cancer “in… Read more »