Sadly, in rare circumstances, symptoms of ovarian cancer can be missed by healthcare professionals. The consequences of a negligently missed diagnosis or delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be life-changing or even fatal, and in such cases the patient, or their family, may be entitled to pursue a claim for clinical negligence.
March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In our latest clinical negligence blog, Chartered Legal Executive Sian Morris looks at the symptoms and treatment of ovarian cancer so that women can be informed of the signs and know when to seek medical advice.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer is cancer arising from the cells in and around the ovary and fallopian tube. There are many different types of ovarian tumours classified by the types of cells and tissue they originate from.
What are the symptoms?
- Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
- Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Needing to urinate more urgently or more often than usual
Occasionally there can be other symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue, unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite. If you experience any post-menopausal bleeding this should always be investigated.
How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?
Early detection and treatment is important. This is often not possible for ovarian cancer as there are no effective screening methods until ovarian cancer is suspected. Often women do not have any symptoms until the tumour is large or in the later stages of the disease. The following tests may be used to diagnose ovarian cancer: abdominal-pelvic examination, transvaginal ultrasound scan, blood tests/CA-125 assay, CT scan, MRI scan and biopsy.
Stages and grades of ovarian cancer
If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer it will be given a ‘stage’ which describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. Diagnosing the cancer with a ‘stage’ 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 or ovaries and into the fallopian tube(s), pelvis or womb.
- Stage 3 – the cancer has spread to the lining of the abdomen, the surface of the bowel or the lymph glands in the pelvis or abdomen.
- Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.
The cancer will also be given a “grade”. This is a way of describing how quickly or slowly the cancer is likely to grow or spread, and what treatment is needed.
There are 3 grades of ovarian cancer:
- Grade 1 – well differentiated i.e. the cancer cells look like normal cells are growing relatively slowly.
- Grade 2 – moderately differentiated i.e. the cancer cells look similar to normal cells and a growing more quickly.
- Grade 3 – poorly differentiated (or undifferentiated) i.e. the cancer cells do not look like normal cells and are growing quickly. This grade of cancer is the most aggressive and likely to spread.
The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. The amount and type of surgery you have will depend on your stage and type of cancer. For some women with very early stage ovarian cancer, surgery is the only treatment you will need. Most women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease and have a combination of both surgery and chemotherapy. You may have chemotherapy after surgery, or both before and after surgery.
You can find further information on the following websites:
How can we help?
Here at Switalskis Solicitors we recognise the devastating, and in some cases fatal, effect that a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer can have. Compensation can help improve the quality of life for you and your family, and provide vital support at a time when it is needed the most.
The Clinical Negligence team at Switalskis are here to help you, and can offer advice and assistance in relation to a wide range of clinical negligence claims. To speak to one our team members call us on 0800 138 0458
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.