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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – Reducing delays in diagnosis


Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month – Reducing delays in diagnosis

  • 05/03/2021
  • Health & Social Care Research, Big Data & Digital Health, Cancer, Women's Health
  • hbrewer

March is ovarian cancer awareness month in the UK, so let’s talk about ovarian cancer. Beginning with the key numbers, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in females, and about 20 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK every day.

Chance for survival of ovarian cancer drops as the disease progresses. Around 95% of those diagnosed at Stage 1 will survive for 5 years or more compared with only 15% of those whose disease has progressed to Stage 41.

Unfortunately, 1 in 5 women with ovarian cancer will not receive treatment because they’re too unwell by the time they receive their diagnosis. In 2018, 60% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in England were diagnosed with either Stage 3 or Stage 42.

Why is ovarian cancer usually found after it’s already progressed to a later stage?

Unlike breast cancer where a woman might find a lump, or colon cancer where you might notice blood in your stool, the symptoms of ovarian cancer – such as bloating, loss of appetite, weeing more often, and tummy pain – are non-specific and could be associated with other more common illnesses. As a result, many ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed at emergency services when their symptoms have become debilitating.

Those with ovarian cancer who experienced symptoms associated with the disease have reported lack of concern, normalising of symptoms, and ‘not wanting to waste GPs’ time’ as reasons for not seeking care sooner.

Evidence shows that a greater knowledge of symptoms of ovarian cancer alone does not always lead to earlier presentation in primary care, and women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer might have felt that the symptoms were manageable using home remedies or over-the-counter medication such as painkillers or indigestion tablets.

What if we could identify someone who might be treating ovarian cancer symptoms based on their purchases of those over-the-counter medications?

Could this provide a new way to alert those possibly experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms to see their GP sooner? Could this improve earlier detection of ovarian cancer?

Which brings me to the Cancer Loyalty Card Study…

This is what we’re exploring in the Cancer Loyalty Card Study (CLOCS)3, a Cancer Research UK funded research project. Store loyalty cards already collect and record purchases of cardholders. In CLOCS, we are comparing every day shopping purchases from high-street retailers among women with ovarian cancer and women without ovarian cancer. Based on a previous pilot study4, we think there could be a detectable change in shopping habits before a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she is self-treating symptoms with items like over-the-counter medication.

Perhaps a change in behaviour like this could alert someone to visit their doctor sooner than when they might have gone on their own.

We will compare the shopping behaviour of women with ovarian cancer before their diagnosis with the shopping behaviour of women of a similar age and without ovarian cancer. In order to detect a difference, we need the purchase histories of about 500 women with ovarian cancer and 500 women without the disease.

How do I take part?

We are still looking for women without ovarian cancer to participate in the CLOCS study. You can find out more on our VOICE opportunity page or on our secure website.

To get involved you will be required to complete:

  • a consent form for us to request your loyalty card history on your behalf,
  • a questionnaire to give us an idea of your ovarian cancer risk,
  • a proof of identity check for the purchase history requests. (This last step is required by the retailers. We store any proof of identity documents in our secure server at Imperial College London and then permanently delete them once we receive your purchase history.)

Women with ovarian cancer are also being recruited to take part in CLOCS in several NHS sites around the UK. A list of recruiting centres can be found on the CLOCS website here.

Join us on 26th March to find out more!

If you’re interested in finding out more about CLOCS to take part, or if you’re looking to make a difference this ovarian cancer awareness month, join us on 26th March at 5pm! Ovarian Cancer Action is hosting us to tell you more about CLOCS, how it’s going, and how you can be involved. You can find out more through our VOICE event page or register via Eventbrite.


We’re aiming to help reduce delays in ovarian cancer diagnosis using everyday data. This ovarian cancer awareness month consider being part of ovarian cancer research.  


Blog by Hannah Brewer, epidemiologist and postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London ([email protected])



  3. Brewer HR, Hirst Y, Sundar S, et al. Cancer Loyalty Card Study (CLOCS): protocol for an observational case–control study focusing on the patient interval in ovarian cancer diagnosis. BMJ Open 2020;10:e037459. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-037459
  4. Flanagan J, Skrobanski H, Shi X, Hirst Y. Self-Care Behaviors of Ovarian Cancer Patients Before Their Diagnosis: Proof-of-Concept Study. JMIR Cancer. 2019;5(1):e10447. doi: 10.2196/10447




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