I have cancer. Why did my GP not diagnose it earlier?
Why did my GP not realise I had cancer? A difficult question and one that can often never be fully answered. It is of no comfort to know that hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially if you have had a delayed diagnosis.
Last week the newspapers were full of stories about GP’s missing ovarian cancer. No one wants to have their cancer overlooked, but unfortunately it does occasionally happen, especially if you are a lot younger than the “average” patient.
So what about ovarian cancer, what should you look for?
“the symptom with the highest predictive value for ovarian cancer was ‘abdominal distension’ – a persistent, progressive increase in the size of the tummy, which is different from the ‘off-and-on’ bloating that lots of women experience at some point [in fheir life's]
What does this mean? Well the symptom that was most likely to be caused by ovarian cancer than something else was if you tummy gradually gets bigger (due to “bloating” rather than weight gain) and it doesn’t come and go or vary over time. Of course, this is not fool proof. If you took 100 women with this symptom of “abdominal distension” then only 2.5 % of them would have ovarian cancer. There are other symptoms, you can find out more at “Ovarian Cancer Action”
I started to look into the statistics of this in a bit more depth. The average GP has a list of about 1,800 patients in their care. In any two week period, 15 % of the entire UK population visit their GP! (I would never have guessed it was this high, I would have thought it was lower, maybe round 4 % ). Of course these figures are averages, some people don’t see their GP for decades and some people have much more complicated long term conditions that mean they have to see their GP regularly. None the less, it means GP’s see a lot of people.
The following quote are from GPs who keep blogs (anonymously) online.
“I see a dozen or more patients a week with one or more of these symptoms. It would be exceptionally unusual for any of them to have ovarian cancer. Most of them will not have cancer of any sort but, if they do have cancer, bowel cancer is far more likely. And I can give you a list of fifty conditions, all far commoner than ovarian cancer, that could be associated with these symptoms. This does not mean that one should not be alert to the possibility of ovarian cancer. Of course one should be.”