Can OTC sales help to predict ovarian cancer?

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Can OTC sales help to predict ovarian cancer?

Women with and without ovarian cancer differ in their purchases of pain and indigestion medications several months before diagnosis, research shows.

Five-year survival falls from 93 per cent for women detected with stage 1 ovarian cancer to 13 per cent at stage 4 – so early diagnosis is essential.

Researchers used UK loyalty card data to compare purchases of OTC pain and indigestion medications over six years before diagnosis in 153 women with and 120 women without ovarian cancer at community pharmacies. 

“The cancer symptoms we are looking for are very common, but for some women, they could be the first signs of something more serious,” says lead author Dr James Flanagan from the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London. 

Cumulative purchases of OTC pain and indigestion medication began to increase 24 months before ovarian cancer diagnosis. The difference between the groups peaked – an almost three-fold difference (odds ratio 2.91) – eight months before ovarian cancer diagnosis. 

On average, women with ovarian cancer began to recognise their symptoms about 4.5 months before diagnosis. The first visit to a GP occurred, on average, about 3.5 months before ovarian cancer diagnosis.

“This suggests that long before women have recognised their symptoms as alarming enough to go to the GP, they may be treating them at home,” Dr Flanagan says.

Larger studies should verify these findings which, the authors write, could “lead to the future development of an alert system for individuals to seek medical attention for the symptoms they are experiencing sooner than they might otherwise”. (Public Health and Surveillance 2023;9:e41762)

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