Here's Why It's So Difficult to Get an Accurate Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

The good news is that ovarian cancer is relatively rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it accounts for only 3 percent of all cancer diagnoses. However, the bad news is that ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and is the fifth-leading cause of cancer deaths among women. And a recent study — conducted by the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition — may offer some insight as to why: People are extremely undereducated about the disease.

In fact, two-thirds of the women surveyed had never heard of ovarian cancer and/or did not know anything about it before their diagnosis. 

But that’s not all; according to the study, 9 out of 10 women revealed they experienced symptoms prior to their diagnosis, but fewer than half visited a doctor within a month of noticing said symptoms.

The study surveyed 1,500 women in 44 countries, and while a lack of patient awareness was perhaps the biggest (and most surprising) takeaway, researchers also found there was a lack of awareness among doctors, which resulted in diagnostic delays; there was a lack of access to genetic testing, both pre- and post-diagnosis; and there was a severe lack of access to treatment, despite this being of the utmost importance.

Annwen Jones, CEO of Target Ovarian Cancer in the U.K. and cochair of The Every Woman Study, said in a statement that this study provides powerful evidence of the challenges faced by people diagnosed with ovarian cancer across the world and sets an agenda for global change. 

"We were especially shocked by the widespread, woeful lack of awareness of ovarian cancer," she added. "It is vital that urgent steps are taken in every country to raise awareness of the disease and speed up diagnosis so that we can transform the outlook for the increasing numbers of women and their families affected by ovarian cancer around the world."

So, what can we do to stay on top of our ovarian health? To start with, we should be more aware of the signs of ovarian cancer and speak up if your doctor isn’t taking your pain or concerns seriously. The more everyone is aware of ovarian cancer — including medical professionals — the better chance people have of surviving the diagnosis.

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