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Healthcare professionals guide to ovarian cancer

Symptoms and diagnosis

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK, with around 7,500 women diagnosed every year. It is classified as a rare disease and, on average, a GP will only see one case every five years. Ovarian Cancer Action has produced a guide for healthcare professionals that contains everything to consider when thinking about ovarian cancer.

Tests should be carried out in primary care if a woman (especially if 50 or over) reports having any of the following symptoms on a persistent or frequent basis – particularly more than 12 times per month:

  • Persistent abdominal distension (‘bloating’)
  • Feeling full (early satiety) and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Increased urinary urgency and/or frequency

Ovarian cancer is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS diagnosis is most prevalent in people in their 20s and 30s. If a woman over 50 years of age presents with a new onset of IBS-like symptoms, it may be a sign of a serious disease, and it is important that ovarian cancer is considered as a differential diagnosis.

Ovarian Cancer Action has produced a handy guide to the NICE clinical guideline for ovarian cancer in primary care, including a flow chart for detection. Download a copy of this here.

Hereditary ovarian cancer

In about 15-20% of ovarian cancer cases it is likely that the inheritance of a particular gene mutation plays a strong part. There are two familial cancer conditions that can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. These are:

It is important to identify patients who are at high risk of developing ovarian cancer so that steps can be taken to reduce their risk.

Our BRCA hub contains everything a patient needs to know about BRCA1/2 gene mutations, including entitlement to testing, implications of having a mutation and information on things such as surgery and fertility options.

Ovarian Cancer Action has produced a guide to hereditary ovarian cancer especially for GPs. It contains information about how to identify someone who may be at risk of carrying a genetic mutation, and guidelines for referring patients for genetic testing. It also provides tips to help support a patient who has recently found out they carry a genetic mutation, and the role the GP plays throughout the testing process. Download the guide here.

Training and resources

Ovarian Cancer Action works with health professionals to help ensure they are up to date and equipped with the latest information and guidelines about ovarian cancer.

Whether you are a GP in a practice, or a health and wellbeing professional in the workplace, we can help ensure you give your patients and employees the best care. Things we can offer include:

  • An ovarian cancer information session for you and your practice staff
  • An awareness talk in your workplace
  • A half day training session that explores the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer, its diagnosis in primary care, and how hereditary disorders can impact on risk
  • Training sessions on how to raise awareness in the workplace

We have also produced our brand new training and resource packs for health professionals and GPs which contain all our information materials. To order a pack please email:  info@ovarian.org.uk


GP pack small

Supporting your patient

If you have a patient who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer they may come to you with questions and concerns throughout their cancer journey.

You may find it useful to give your patient some Ovarian Cancer Action information leaflets.

Many cancer charities run telephone support lines that offer emotional support and advice where women can speak to someone anonymously over the phone:

  • Macmillan Cancer Care 0808 808 0000
  • Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres 0300 123 1801
  • Ovacome 0845 371 0554

If your patient would like to talk to someone who has had or who has ovarian cancer call us on 020 7380 1744 and we can put you in touch.

Although everyone’s experiences are different, they might be able to offer some personal, practical advice and give your patient a feel of what to expect.

You could also point her to our stories from women who have/have had ovarian cancer.