Objective: To describe the diagnostic pathways experienced by a large, representative group of Australian women with ovarian cancer, and to document the time between first presentation to a medical professional and clinical diagnosis.
Design, setting and participants: 1463 women with epithelial ovarian cancer from an Australia-wide population-based study (2002-2005) completed a telephone interview in which they described the events that led to the diagnosis of their cancer.
Main outcome measures: Number and type of doctors consulted, investigations performed, referral patterns and the time from first presentation to diagnosis.
Results: Of the 1463 women, 145 had their cancer diagnosed incidentally and were excluded from analysis. Most of the remaining 1318 women (1222, 93%) presented first to their general practitioner. As a result of their first medical consultation, 75 women (6%) were given a diagnosis, and 484 (37%) were referred to a gynaecologist, gynaecological oncologist or oncologist for further assessment. Overall, 85% of women visited three or fewer doctors before their cancer was diagnosed; 66% of cancers were diagnosed within 1 month of the initial presentation, and 80% were diagnosed within 3 months. For 12% of women, the diagnostic process took longer than 6 months; this was more likely for women residing in remote Australia, those with lower incomes, and those presenting with abdominal pain or bowel symptoms, or with more than one symptom.
Conclusions: Despite anecdotal suggestions to the contrary, most women with ovarian cancer in Australia are investigated and diagnosed promptly. The diagnostic process is more protracted for a minority of women, and the factors we found to be associated with diagnostic delay warrant further investigation.