Almost half of women with ovarian cancer were initially misdiagnosed, a charity has found.
And four in ten patients with the cancer said their symptoms were not taken seriously by dismissive GPs.
Research found that women were ‘dying needlessly’ because they were fobbed off by doctors who attributed symptoms to other issues such as digestion problems, the menopause or stress.
About 46 per cent of patients were initially referred for tests for something other than ovarian cancer, delaying their diagnosis and treatment.
Annwen Jones, from the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, which carried out the study, said: ‘Women with ovarian cancer are being failed at diagnosis, in access to trials and effective drugs, and they lack support. They deserve better than this.’
A fifth of sufferers aged 50 or above were first told they had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) despite official guidelines stating older women with symptoms of IBS should be screened for ovarian cancer.
And 40 per cent of patients said their GP had not considered their symptoms to be serious, with nearly one in ten told they may have a mental health problem instead. A further 41 per cent of women had to visit their doctor at least three times before being referred for cancer tests, according to the research.
Even when women were referred for tests, three quarters were not told they might have ovarian cancer.
The cancer is often misdiagnosed or diagnosed late because of a lack of awareness about the symptoms among both the public and doctors. Signs include persistent stomach swelling, appetite loss and pelvic or abdominal pain.
Every year 7,300 women are diagnosed with the disease and 4,100 die. Only a third of women survive for ten years after diagnosis and 15 per cent die within two months.
Target Ovarian Cancer interviewed 396 ovarian cancer patients, as well as 504 GPs and 41 nurses for its annual Pathfinder survey.
It found nearly half of cancer nurses did not think their unit had enough staff to care properly for patients, while two thirds of the nurses surveyed did not have time to explain the symptoms of recurrent ovarian cancer.
Only one in four patients were involved in a clinical trial, despite more than half saying that they would like to be involved in one.
The report authors wrote: ‘Too many women continue to think cervical screening protects them against ovarian cancer and many have a false confidence in their ability to spot the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
‘Women continue to face repeat visits to their GP before being referred for diagnostic tests and many GPs still falsely believe symptoms only present themselves in the later stages of the disease and continue to be unaware of the importance of family history on both sides of the family.’
Professor Michael Peake, from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, who oversaw the research, said the results showed ‘where women’s lives could be saved if the quality of services were to be improved and, where necessary, investment made’.
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