THE lives of women with ovarian cancer in Scotland are being cut short because of unnecessary delays to their diagnoses, new data has revealed.
A third of women with the disease had to wait more than six months for a diagnosis after first visiting their GP – another third had to wait at least three months.
And more than half of women have told how their doctors misdiagnosed the cancer at least once before they were eventually sent for the correct tests.
The study also revealed just 1 per cent of women in Scotland say they are “confident” they know the symptoms of ovarian cancer – the lowest rate in the UK.
The research, by the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, also found many women were delaying visiting their GPs even when they had symptoms of the disease, mainly because they did not recognise the problems were linked to the cancer, which an average 615 women in Scotland are diagnosed with annually.
The charity has called for greater awareness among women of the symptoms of the illness which includes bloating, difficulty eating, abdominal pain and extreme fatigue.
Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Early diagnosis is key but women in Scotland face delays at every turn.
“The lives of women with ovarian cancer in Scotland are still being cut short because of delays to their diagnoses.
“Across the UK, a third of women are diagnosed in Accident and Emergency departments and 75 per cent of women are diagnosed once the cancer has spread. This is unacceptable.
“We must improve symptom awareness with women, improve GP knowledge and ensure they have prompt access to diagnostic tests.”
She said it was “imperative” awareness raising campaigns were run by health officials “to stop women needlessly dying”.The charity’s survey also revealed that prior to their diagnosis 55 per cent of women said they had heard of the disease, but knew nothing about it.
It also showed half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the last five years took more than a month to visit their GP after they began experiencing symptoms.
The charity warned the UK, including Scotland, has one of the worst survival rates for the cancer in Europe.
The charity said: “Women diagnosed at the earliest stage of ovarian cancer have a five year survival rate of 92 per cent – but the five year survival rate in the UK is just 36 per cent, amongst the worst in Europe.
“500 lives a year could be saved through earlier diagnosis if the UK could match Europe.”
Case study: ‘I changed my doctor before I was listened to’
Mother-of-two Sharon Gould had to wait five months before she was told she had ovarian cancer.
Ms Gould, from Fife, said: “Misdiagnosis and delays meant months of pain and frustration before I was finally diagnosed.
“It took me changing my doctor for my concerns to finally be heard and to be sent for tests. Even after that I had to wait three weeks for the results.
“At first my GP said it was constipation, or fibroids or that possibly I was pregnant. He was not very concerned at all.
But I knew something was wrong. I was so tired and felt sick and my abdomen was swollen and sore.”
The 43-year-old singer, was re-diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2012, just three months after being given her first all-clear. She has been told her cancer is incurable and to expect to live for “years but not decades”.
She said: “I’ll be receiving treatment as and when I need it to try and contain it. For many of us, a delay in diagnosis means the cancer has already spread, and treatment is difficult.
“I’ve been told in my case it is harder to detect the cancer I have, known as clear cell. But I have met many women who would stand much better chances of survival had their GPs listened to them and sent them for tests sooner. Waiting months let alone weeks is totally unacceptable. This is womens’ lives we are talking about, unnecessary delays can be the difference of life or death.”