Smear tests don’t detect ovarian cancer

One in five women think a smear test (cervical screening) can detect ovarian cancer, but they are mistaken.

Smear tests are performed to detect abnormal cells on the cervix, the entrance to the womb. If abnormal cells are identified they are removed from the cervix and that can help prevent cervical cancer.

Ovarian cancer is different to cervical cancer. Ovarian cancer develops when cells in the ovary (connected to the womb by the fallopian tubes) begin to grow and divide in an abnormal way, eventually growing to form a tumour.

GPs check for ovarian cancer by doing a pelvic examination to determine whether the ovary is enlarged and by taking a sample of blood to test for a substance called CA125, which, if high in the blood may indicate ovarian cancer.

The lack of awareness behind the purpose of a smear test means many women may think they are ‘safe’ or ‘protected’ from ovarian cancer. As March launches Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to know the signs of the cancer:

  • Constant bloating or swollen stomach
  • Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Urinary symptoms, including needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual.

Dr Nicola Smith, GP and Chair of NHS Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said:

“Everyday 20 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK, and over half of these newly diagnosed patients are already at a late stage of cancer.

“It is crucial women are aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and if women are presenting any of the signs, not to be embarrassed and book an appointment with their GP.

“If changes have been noticed they may not be due to cancer, but if it is, the earlier the diagnosis the higher the rate of successful treatment.”

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