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Fifth of women think smear test detects ovarian cancer

Charity calls for campaign to increase awareness of the disease and its symptoms

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

One in five women in the UK (22%) mistakenly believes that a smear test (cervical screening) can detect ovarian cancer, according to research carried out by YouGov for the charity Target Ovarian Cancer.

This lack of awareness means many women are at risk of assuming they are ‘protected’ from ovarian cancer when they get their smear test, and writing off symptoms of ovarian cancer when they experience them, the charity warns. This could put women at increased risk of a late diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Smear tests aim to detect cervical cancer, and Public Health England will launch a Be Clear on Cancer campaign on 5 March encouraging women to take up cervical screening. The introduction of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine means that in future rates of cervical cancer are likely to fall in the UK.

However, neither screening nor a vaccine exists for ovarian cancer, which affects over 25,000 women in the UK, so it is essential for women to know the symptoms to look out for, Target Ovarian Cancer says. It is calling for the government to invest in a national symptoms awareness campaign to tackle confusion and lack of awareness surrounding ovarian cancer.

Target Ovarian Cancer's chief executive Annwen Jones said: "We need to combat the confusion around ovarian cancer and cervical screening, because while smear tests are a vital tool in public health, a similar option simply does not exist in ovarian cancer. While we welcome government investment in raising awareness of the cervical screening programme this March, the ovarian cancer community is painfully aware that 11 women die every day from ovarian cancer and we urgently need to see a national ovarian cancer symptoms awareness campaign. Women are still waiting."

Pat Taylor, diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017, said: "I had always thought cervical screening detected ovarian cancer, and that I was covered when I had my smear tests. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017 after a two-year delay, it was such a shock. Now I want all women to be vigilant of the symptoms of ovarian cancer – better awareness will save lives."

Symptoms which could indicate ovarian cancer include persistent bloating, feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite, pelvic or abdominal pain and urinary symptoms.

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