GPs play a crucial role in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. There are several reasons why ovarian cancer might not be on a GP’s radar if a patient presents with its main symptoms, particularly as ovarian cancer symptoms are vague and may be caused by more common conditions. We know, however, that sometimes women feel like their symptoms are not being taken seriously or have been misdiagnosed.
We always advise anyone to go to a doctor if they feel something isn’t right, but how do you make yourself heard? We’ve partnered with retired GP Dr Hilary Morrison and put together some practical advice to help you talk to your doctor about worrying symptoms and help them find out what’s going on quickly.
- Know the signs and symptoms
Ovarian cancer has four main symptoms:
1. Persistent stomach pain
2. Persistent bloating
3. Difficulty eating or feeling full more quickly
4. Needing to wee more than usual (more frequently)
Other symptoms include back pain, feeling very tired (fatigue) for no reason, unexplained weight loss or changes in your bowel habit.
These can also be symptoms of less serious and more common conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). So if you’re experiencing them it doesn’t necessarily mean you have ovarian cancer. However, these symptoms are more likely to be a sign of ovarian cancer if they are persistent (they continue), severe, frequent, and unusual for you. If they are, you should book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
- Keep track of your symptoms
It’s a good idea to keep a daily and thorough record of your symptoms using our symptoms diary. This will help you track potential signs of ovarian cancer and describe them clearly to your GP. If you have already seen your GP and your symptoms are not getting better over time or with treatment, you may find this diary helpful to provide them with a clearer picture of what you are experiencing.
You can download our paper symptoms diary or search ‘Ovarian Cancer Action’ in your phone’s app store for a digital version.
- Tell your GP you’re worried about ovarian cancer
Dr Hilary Morrison: “Actually tell your GP that you are worried that you might possibly have ovarian cancer. This will help them focus their thoughts and make them more likely to arrange some tests and a follow up appointment if symptoms persist.
“An average GP will only see a new patient with ovarian cancer every five years so it might not the first possible diagnosis on their radar when you talk to them.”
Your GP should arrange a CA125 blood test and possibly an ultrasound scan if:
· You are experiencing any of the four main symptoms and they are persisting
· If you’re aged 50 or above and experiencing IBS symptoms in the last 12 months because IBS is less likely to develop in women over 50
- Take someone with you to your appointment if possible
A friend or family member can give you moral support and help you explain what your symptoms are like and how they are affecting you. Due to Covid-19 safety measures, a friend or relative may only be able to join you on a telephone or video consultation.
- Tell your GP about your family history
A family history of certain cancers can increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor about any history of cancer you have in family as it will help them assess your personal risk of cancer and put your symptoms in context.
Dr Hilary Morrison: “Tell you GP if you have any family history of ovarian, breast, bowel, pancreatic, or prostate cancer on either of your parents’ side. You can inherit a faulty gene that increases your risk of developing ovarian cancer from your mother or your father.
“However if you don’t have a known family history still seek help if you have concerning symptoms. Many of us don’t know their family’s full medical history and the majority of cases of ovarian cancer aren’t genetic.”
Around 15% of ovarian cancer cases are linked to genetic alterations such as BRCA1/1 mutations and Lynch syndrome. BRCA1/2 alterations are more common in certain populations, such as Ashkenazi Jewish and Polish.
You can use our Hereditary Cancer Risk Tool, to explore your cancer risk. You can print the result from the Risk Tool and take this to your GP. If you are unsure about your family history we recommend you speak to your relatives to find out if anyone in your extended family has been diagnosed with cancer.
- Ask for a second opinion
You’re entitled to a second opinion – particularly if your symptoms have not improved or become worse, and you’re worried your GP is not taking them seriously. If you usually see the same GP and feel you are not being heard, try to see a different one at your next appointment and explain everything from the start to them.
Dr Hilary Morrison: “If your symptoms persist or worsen after you have spoken to your GP, go back to see them again - even if you had a CA125 blood test or ultrasound scan that was reported as normal. A normal CA125 blood test needs repeating after six weeks if symptoms continue - if it’s still normal despite persistent or worsening ovarian cancer symptoms then your GP should refer you for a second opinion. (A CA125 blood test is not good at detecting some of the rare types of ovarian cancer).
“If they do not do this then ask to see or speak to another GP in the practice and explain all your symptoms and concerns.”
You can print this page and take it with you to your next appointment so your doctor can help answer any questions or concerns you have.