A woman from South East Cornwall spoke out during a national week of action designed to raise awareness of symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Stephanie Downing, from Saltash, is warning other women and their GPs not to ignore bloating as a significant symptom of ovarian cancer – after being wrongly diagnosed for around five months with irritable bowel syndrome.
She was speaking out in the week that ovarian cancer charity Ovacome unveiled what it called ‘startling’ figures showing that women and their GPs are dismissing bloating – the main symptom of the disease – as something less serious.
Stephanie, 49, is a former lawyer and teaching assistant at Bishop Cornish Primary School.
She says she is relieved that after several visits to her GP, she insisted on further investigation for the bloating she suffered – looking heavily pregnant from one moment to having a flat stomach the next.
A scan led to the revelation that in fact she had early stage 1 ovarian cancer. That was three-and-a-half years ago, and after surgery and chemotherapy she has been clear of disease.
‘I fought my corner, but a lot of women won’t feel comfortable doing this over something which can so easily be dismissed as irritable bowel syndrome or the menopause,’ said Stephanie.
‘Women need to be made aware that bloating – even if you are aged under 50 – is a strong indicator of ovarian cancer, which can be checked by asking your GP for a simple blood test.’
In a study of 324 women, Ovacome found that although nine in 10 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer had bloating, in only 20 per cent of cases was it the symptom which took them to their GP.
The research also showed that women who did go to their GP with bloating had to wait an average of 22 weeks for a referral to a gynaecological specialist.
The charity is working to spread awareness of BEAT: B is for bloating that is persistent; E is for eating less and feeling fuller quicker; A is for abdominal pain; and T is for telling your GP.