News that NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) has produced guidelines encouraging GPs to perform blood tests on women with symptoms of early stage ovarian cancer is welcome. We already know that cancer is often diagnosed later than it could be in the UK and anything that helps to identify and treat the condition early is good news.
Outcomes from many forms of cancer are not as good in the UK as in many other European countries and it may well be that the problem arises at the primary care stage – the stage at which patients first report symptoms to their GP.
That does not necessarily mean that GPs are doing anything wrong: it could be that too many patients wait too long before seeking medical help. But there is a suspicion that GPs are in many cases failing to recognise the early signs of ovarian (and other) cancer and to make necessary referrals.
People regularly consult me over cases where despite regular GP visits cancer was not diagnosed until it was too late.It is particularly welcome because ovarian cancer is often difficult to diagnose early. Its symptoms – bloating, feeling full quickly, lower abdominal pain and needing to urinate urgently – can also suggest other conditions. In particular women are often wrongly diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, which rarely begins once women reach 50.
Although the recommended blood tests are not completely accurate they should help in identifying the condition in 4 out of 5 women. Early diagnosis is key become survival rates are poor among the 6,800 people diagnosed with the condition each year.
The diagnosis of cancer is often a tragedy for the person concerned and for their family. Knowing that the diagnosis could have been made earlier is salt in the wound. Sadly I deal daily with too many people in that very sad situation.
Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.