Bloating is a key symptom of ovarian cancer which experts say is being ignored during the pandemic

A new survey shows that less than two in 10 women say they would book an urgent GP appointment if they were experiencing persistent bloating, which is a key symptom of ovarian cancer. 

Women’s lives are being put at risk because urgent cancer symptoms are being overlooked during the pandemic, according to new research by the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity.

A warning has been issued by Target Ovarian Cancer ahead of ovarian cancer month in March. A new survey shows that less than two in 10 women (17%) say they would book an urgent GP appointment (within a week) if they were experiencing persistent bloating.

This is not the case with other, better known cancer symptoms such as an unexplained lump, or a mole that has changed shape, with over 50% of women saying they would take those symptoms seriously and get to their GP within a week.

According to Target Ovarian Cancer, the Covid-19 pandemic is having an impact on early diagnosis of ovarian cancer with women hesitant to contact their GP unless for an urgent appointment. Yet many fail to recognise some symptoms as urgent. The resulting delays could make them at greater risk of being diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

Currently, two thirds of women are diagnosed late, when the cancer has already spread and is much harder to treat successfully. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, nine out of 10 women will survive for five years or more. When diagnosed at the most advanced stage just 13% will survive.

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Marie Foord, 49 from Hastings, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020. She began to experience symptoms such as bloating and bowel symptoms but was reluctant to contact the GP because of the pressure being faced by the NHS in the early part of the pandemic.

Eventually, Marie contacted her GP in May last year and got a diagnosis of stage IIIc ovarian cancer, and, unusually, an additional diagnosis of womb cancer. She continued to have four rounds of chemo, followed by surgery in October 2020, more chemo, and finished her treatment in December 2020. She is now taking medication and is feeling well.

Marie told Stylist: “Nobody I know would associate bloating with ovarian cancer, and in fact it never crossed my mind before I was diagnosed. I want people to take it seriously and give your GP a call if you’re concerned. This pandemic can make us all nervous about going to the GP, but our health is so important. My GP was amazing and supportive throughout my diagnosis.”

Dr Alison Wint GP and Clinical Lead for Cancer at NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG said: “Cancer is not going away just because of Covid-19. GPs want to know. In fact, it’s as important as ever to come forward with urgent cancer symptoms such as persistent bloating, feeling full quickly or loss of appetite, tummy pain, needing to wee more often or more urgently, change in bowel habits or weight loss. Take it seriously and talk to your GP.”

Annwen Jones OBE, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “It is absolutely vital that women know persistent bloating needs to be checked out by a GP. The pandemic can make it hard to put ourselves first, and people are worried about putting pressure on the NHS. But getting ovarian cancer symptoms checked out promptly and starting treatment quickly makes all the difference.”

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

• Persistent bloating - not bloating that comes and goes

• Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite

• Pelvic or abdominal pain (that’s your tummy and below)

• Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)

Occasionally there can be other symptoms such as: 

• Changes in bowel habit (eg diarrhoea or constipation)

• Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)

• Unexplained weight loss

Any bleeding after the menopause should always be investigated by a GP.

Symptoms will be:

• Frequent – they usually happen more than 12 times a month

• Persistent – they don’t go away

• New – they are not normal for you 

If you experience the symptoms listed above contact your GP immediately or call the NHS 111 for advice. Target Ovarian Cancer is the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, working to raise awareness for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month this March. 

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