March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. 11 women die in the UK every day from ovarian cancer. Awareness of ovarian cancer is low, both among women and GPs, with two-thirds of women diagnosed once the cancer has already spread. The Clinical Negligence Team at Ison Harrison are supporting the charity Target Ovarian Cancer by spreading the word and raising awareness.

The ovaries are a pair of small organs located low in the abdomen that are connected to the womb and store a woman’s supply of eggs.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer generally presents as non-specific abdominal symptoms such as;

  • Bloated tummy
  • Needing to wee more
  • Always feeling full
  • Tummy pain

It may also be associated with changes to bowel habit, feeling very tired, post-menopausal bleeding and loss of appetite or weight loss.

The symptoms aren’t always easy to recognise because they’re similar to those of some more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). You should seek advice from your GP if you are concerned about any of the symptoms listed above. Your GP may ask you about your symptoms and general health, feel your tummy to check for any swelling or lumps, enquire about a family history of ovarian or breast cancer and take a blood test.


A Blood test will be taken to check for a substance called CA125. CA125 is produced by some ovarian cancer cells and a high level in your blood could be a sign of ovarian cancer. However, a raised CA125 level doesn’t mean you definitely have cancer, as it can also be caused by less serious things such as endometriosis, fibroids and even pregnancy.

Your GP should also arrange for you to have an ultrasound scan. The scan can show changes in your ovaries that could be caused by cancer. If abnormalities are found you will be referred to a specialist for further testing, such as a CT scan, chest x-ray, needle biopsy and a laparoscopy.

Stages and grades of ovarian cancer

If you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it will be given a “stage”.

This describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. It can help your doctors plan the best treatment for you.

The four main stages of ovarian cancer are:

stage 1 – the cancer only affects one or both of the ovaries
stage 2 – the cancer has spread from the ovary and into the pelvis or womb
stage 3 – the cancer has spread to the lining of the tummy, the surface of the bowel or the lymph glands in the pelvis or tummy
stage 4 – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs

Your cancer will also be given a “grade”. This is a way of describing how quickly the cancer is likely to grow or spread.

The grades range from grade 1 (more likely to grow slowly) to grade 3 (more likely to grow quickly).

Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the staging.  If the tumour is confined to one ovary, surgery alone may be sufficient.  If the tumour is more advanced, chemotherapy may also be indicated.

Further information

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Clinical Negligence Claim

In order to pursue a clinical negligence claim the onus is on you to prove that there was a delay in diagnosis and that the delay caused your health to worsen and that your treatment would have been less invasive or more successful had it begun earlier. Usually this means you need to prove that during the delay the cancer progressed to a more advanced stage. Therefore, delays of a few months are unlikely to be enough. However if cancer is left, it is likely to grow and can spread to other parts of the body. Mistakes in diagnosing ovarian cancer can therefore be very serious.

Medical negligence claims may be brought for:

  • Failure to carry out adequate examination or take an accurate history
  • Failure to refer a patient to a gynaecological oncologist for further investigation
  • Mistakes in interpreting the investigations (full blood count, chest x-ray, pelvic ultrasound, abdominal pelvic CT scan or serum levels of CA-125)
  • Mistaken diagnosis of ovarian cancer often resulting in unnecessary surgery

How can we help?

If you would like to speak to a member of our team in order to discuss your potential case call Ison Harrison now for free advice on 0113 284 5000. We recognise that damages arising from a successful claim are often not the priority, but a claim can often affect a change in care so that mistakes are avoided in the future and improve patient care.

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