Most UK women mistakenly believe pap smear will detect ovarian cancer

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Almost a half (47%) of women in the UK incorrectly believe that cervical screening (commonly known as the smear test) will detect ovarian cancer. Target Ovarian Cancer, the national ovarian cancer charity working to save lives and help women diagnosed, surveyed women in the general population about ovarian cancer, and is calling on all women to ensure they are informed about the symptoms, this Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (March).

Annwen Jones, CEO of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Almost half of all women are taking false reassurance from their regular cervical screening, but are risking their health by not knowing that cervical screening does not detect ovarian cancer, the deadliest of the gynaecological cancers. In the absence of a screening test for ovarian cancer, it is crucial that women know the symptoms and visit their GP with concerns, as early diagnosis saves lives.”

Confusion is highest amongst younger women, with 57% of 16-34-year-olds believing that cervical screening will detect ovarian cancer. For those aged 55 and over, the age group most at risk of ovarian cancer, almost one in every two (48%) believe that cervical screening will detect ovarian cancer.

Giving further cause for concern, women are also unaware of the main risk factors of ovarian cancer – age and family history. 60% of women in the general population are unaware that the risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, while just 13% spontaneously mention having a relative with ovarian cancer as a risk factor; although when prompted 76% of women agreed that having a close relative with ovarian cancer increases the risk of the disease. These findings show that there is much to be done before women are fully aware of the ovarian cancer risk factors.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are frequent (they usually happen more than 12 times a month) and persistent, and include: increased abdominal size/persistent bloating; difficulty eating/feeling full; pelvic or abdominal pain; and needing to wee more urgently or more often.

Other symptoms can include unexpected weight loss, change in bowel habits, and extreme fatigue.

The UK Health Department’s Be Clear on Cancer ovarian cancer symptom awareness programme has been taking place in six pilot areas during 2013. Target Ovarian Cancer is calling on the Health Department to extend their symptom awareness campaign nationally, and for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to take similar action, quickly.

Target Ovarian Cancer material

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