East Antrim MLA and UUP spokesman on health Roy Beggs Jnr has called on the Minister for Health to take forward an interactive awareness campaign on the issue of ovarian cancer. The Ulster Unionist MLA outlined the fact that ovarian cancer leads to 6•6% of all cancer deaths in Northern Ireland and that 500 lives could be saved in the United Kingdom European levels of diagnosis and treatment were matched.
Speaking in support of an Assembly motion Mr Beggs said:
“Ovarian cancer is one of the commonest forms of cancer affecting women in Northern Ireland. In 2011, it accounted for 2•6% of female cancer cases, and one in 87 women is affected by it. Each of us will probably know someone who will be affected by it in her lifetime, and we should all think carefully about that. However, it also accounts for 6•6% of all cancer deaths. Why is there such a significant difference between the level of the occurrence and the resulting deaths? The evidence points to late diagnosis being a contributory factor.
In Northern Ireland we have 120 deaths a year; that could be 32 deaths a year in the Northern Trust, which covers my area. Delays contribute to that higher number of deaths, and it has been estimated that, if the UK matched the best treatment in other parts of Europe, 500 women’s lives could be saved each year.
Given the risks associated with ovarian cancer, you would have thought that its symptoms would have been common knowledge. It is important to continue to highlight the symptoms so that more people are aware of them. They include persistent bloating; abdominal distension; pelvic/abdominal pain; difficulty eating; feeling full; and urinary frequency and urgency issues. Clearly, everyone should take great care with those issues. As I indicated, only four out of 10 women visit their GP within one month of experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer. There must be greater public awareness. Almost 60% of symptoms were initially put down by GPs to, for example, irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts or urinary infections. Greater awareness among GPs is also needed so that the issue is not masked by other diagnoses without the appropriate level of inspection. It is encouraging that there is greater use of CA125 blood tests, which are a clear marker, but further improvement is needed.
The stage of the diagnosis is a huge factor in survival rates, with 100% of patients identified at stage 1 surviving more than one year, compared with only 30% of those identified at stage 4. It is imperative that GPs quickly investigate the symptoms of ovarian cancer and make swift referrals when necessary. One of the issues that has been highlighted to me is the need for greater and speedier access to ultrasound, which can be one of the diagnostic tools.
I call on the Minister to ensure that we start an interactive information campaign in Northern Ireland so that the public and GPs are better informed… I hope that, as a result of this debate, there will be more public awareness of ovarian cancer, that patients will, increasingly, present earlier to GPs and that professionals with greater knowledge and using the powerful diagnosis methods available will identify cancer and enable earlier intervention, with the associated improved outcomes.”
Responding to the points raised in the debate, The Minister for Health confirmed that the Public Health Agency (PHA) is planning a cancer awareness campaign for this year.
Motion passed by the Assembly:
That this Assembly notes with concern the results of the Target Ovarian Cancer pathfinder study 2012, which revealed low levels of awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer among women in Northern Ireland and delays in diagnosis and treatment; and calls on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to consider a public awareness campaign on this issue.