Ovarian Cancer

Learning the diagnosis of ovarian cancer

Women with ovarian cancer are usually told their diagnosis by a consultant. It is based on the results of blood tests and scans or laboratory analysis of lumps or cysts removed during an operation (see 'Tests and investigations'). Many women we talked to had known little about ovarian cancer and some were taken completely by surprise; some were convinced that they were being investigated for something else. Some women had been reassured by their doctors that there was nothing to worry about, but others had been warned before their tests or surgery that their condition might be serious, possibly cancer, or had come to realise the likely diagnosis themselves.

One woman realised that her diagnosis was serious because six people visited her to talk to her after her surgery. Another overheard her partner telling someone on the phone about her diagnosis while she was semi-conscious after her operation.

Some women were sent home from hospital before being told their diagnosis. One such woman received a phone message asking her to ring the consultant at the hospital, and realised that she was likely to get bad news. Another discovered her diagnosis accidentally while visiting her GP about another problem.

Some women worked out the diagnosis for themselves, or that it was serious, before being told. For instance, the urgency with which tests or operations were arranged suggested to some women that the condition must be serious. Similarly, other women guessed they had cancer by what doctors or health professionals said or didn't say, or from the way they behaved towards them. Some who were given a report of their test results to take to their consultant or GP learnt the diagnosis simply by reading the report.

Women also picked up clues from what health professionals said to them and used these clues to search for information about their illness on the internet, before their consultant confirmed it.

Some women praised their doctors for the way in which they broke the bad news. One thought her consultant clever for having told her first when she was semi-conscious after her operation, so that when he told her again when she was conscious she had already absorbed the news. Another felt her consultant had presented her diagnosis to her in a very positive light. However, in other cases the diagnosis could have been delivered more sensitively or at a more appropriate time and place. Many stressed the importance of receiving the diagnosis in private, and having a partner or friend present. Friends and partners could give moral support, suggest questions and help the woman to recall the details of a discussion that was often remembered in a 'blur' (see 'Communication with health professionals').



Last reviewed June 2016.

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