AFTER being diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year after she started noticing symptoms, Tracey Toop knows only too well about the importance of an early diagnosis.

Tracey, of Kingsdown Park, is undergoing treatment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2012 and has been told she has just two years to live.

A study by Target Ovarian Cancer, which was launched at the House of Commons yesterday, found that one in four women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the past five years took more than three months to visit their GP after they began experiencing symptoms, while more than 50 per cent took more than a month.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “Early diagnosis is key. Thirty-two per cent of women are diagnosed in A&E and 75 per cent of women are diagnosed once the cancer has spread. This is unacceptable.

“We must improve symptom awareness with women, improve GP knowledge and ensure they have prompt access to diagnostic tests. It is imperative that the Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaign is extended across England and that other home nations take similar action to stop women needlessly dying.”

Target Ovarian Cancer’s Pathfinder Study also found that for almost a third of women, diagnosis was more than six months after they first went to see their doctor.

Misdiagnosis is common: 30 per cent of women are misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome; 15 per cent as having ovarian cysts; and 13 per cent with a urinary infection.

Tracey, 43, said: “I started getting a weird feeling in my stomach, like feeling full up when I’d only just started eating.

“I also had a pain in my leg, which later turned out to have been the tumour pressing down on the nerves.

“This was all probably a year before I was diagnosed, because I ignored the symptoms.”

Tracey collapsed at work and went to see her doctor, where she was given antibiotics for an infection.

When the symptoms got worse she thought it was irritable bowel syndrome.

“In fact there were three tumours on my ovaries, and I ended up having a full hysterectomy. Then, when I’d recovered, there were five months of chemotherapy. Now I’m on avastin (a drug to stop tumour growth) and I’ve been given two years to live – but I don’t take any notice of that.

“Thinking back, it was a year or more – maybe two years – between first noticing the symptoms and being diagnosed. I would urge any woman who feels the sort of symptoms I had to go to their doctor quickly, even if it is only to put their mind at rest..

“Since being diagnosed, I’ve also come across women who weren’t concerned because they thought any cancer would be picked up by the regular cervical smear test.

“That’s what I thought as well but in fact the tests don’t detect ovarian cancer – so just look out for the potential symptoms.”

To see the full results of the Pathfinder study, visit the website pathfinder.