Editorials

Computer assisted diagnosis of ovarian cancer in primary care

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7628 (Published 04 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:d7628
  1. William Hamilton, professor of primary care diagnostics
  1. 1Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, Exeter EX2 4SG, UK
  1. willie.hamilton{at}pcmd.ac.uk

Moving closer, but still some way off

More than 6500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the United Kingdom. This cancer has a relatively poor prognosis—five year survival is 41%.1 Screening is not available, although a large UK trial is due to report in 2015, so this may change.2 Currently, the diagnosis is made almost entirely as a result of women reporting symptoms to primary care.3 However, several factors make the diagnosis of ovarian cancer difficult. The cancer is relatively rare—full time general practitioners (GPs) will encounter it once every five years on average, so they build up little personal experience of diagnosing the disease. Many of the symptoms, such as urinary frequency or abdominal pain, are non-specific, with causes other than ovarian cancer more likely.4 Furthermore, women are not as knowledgeable about the symptoms of ovarian cancer as they are about other cancers.5 This encourages late presentation, with women unlikely to mention the possibility of ovarian cancer in the consultation. Contrast this with breast cancer, where most women finding a breast lump will report it swiftly and will expect the possibility of cancer to be discussed at the consultation.

In the linked study (doi:10.1136/bmj.d8009), Hippisley-Cox and Coupland look at a …

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