There needs to be a sustained public awareness raising campaign to warn of the dangers of ovarian cancer, says a National Assembly committee.
The Petitions Committee has considered a petition submitted by retired palliative care nurse, Margaret Hutcheson from the Vale of Glamorgan, which called for:
"…the Welsh Government to support yearly screening for ovarian cancer (CA125 blood test)."
The petition gathered 104 signatures.
Margaret was inspired to start the petition after a number of her friends were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In her submission to the Petitions Committee she described it as a 'silent killer' due to it going undetected, often until too late.
Figures show 365 women were diagnosed in Wales in 2014, 238 died from the disease.
The Committee was told that the CA125 blood test could detect ovarian cancer, but that it was not accurate enough to be used as part of a screening programme because positive results could also be due to other conditions.
As one witness who contributed to the inquiry put it:
"Screening tests can have a range of unintended consequences from anxiety to unnecessary surgery in extreme cases. We believe that currently testing levels of CA125 is not yet specific or accurate enough to risk being used as a national screening tool. Funding would be better spent at this time on a national symptoms public awareness campaign."
The Committee considered other screening options including transvaginal ultrasound.
Members also examined the results of a trial published in 2015 which showed that either method could help reduce the number of women dying from ovarian cancer by a fifth. However, the study also included a large margin for error which could conceivably skew the results from anywhere between 0-40 per cent. The Committee heard that the trial has been extended in an attempt to produce more definite conclusions.
While the Committee concluded that it couldn't recommend annual ovarian cancer screening be introduced, it did make three recommendations:
- That the potential for a national screening programme be kept under review by the Welsh Government;
- That more work should be done with GPs to ensure that women who present with symptoms of ovarian cancer are referred for appropriate tests; and
- More should be done to improve awareness of ovarian cancer including identifying common symptoms and advising when people should seek medical help.
"The evidence we received from the petitioner was very powerful and on behalf of the Committee I would like to thank her for bringing the petition forward," said Mike Hedges AM, Chair of the Petitions Committee.
"We took detailed evidence on the effectiveness of the CA125 blood test, and on other potential detection methods, but there simply isn't currently the weight of evidence to conclusively prove that lives would be saved by introducing an annual screening programme.
"What we have recommended is that the potential for such a programme be kept under review.
"We want to make sure that, when presented with ovarian cancer symptoms, GPs quickly refer women for the appropriate tests.
"We also believe that more needs to be done generally to raise awareness of this horrible disease."
Petitioner, Margaret Hutcheson, said:
"Recently, figures from Cancer Research UK show that cancer rates are set to rise six times faster for women than men over the next twenty years.
"Cases of ovarian, cervical and oral cancer could increase the most, therefore early detection of this silent killer is vital.
"I would like to thank the members of the Petitions Committee for their support, and for taking my petition seriously enough to investigate the points raised.
"It is my hope that the Welsh Government will take on the Committee's findings and continue to raise awareness of ovarian cancer on an ongoing basis because the problem looks set to become more serious in the future."
Read the comittee's report here (PDF, 598KB)
More information about the Petitions Committee can be found here.