Only a third of women would see a doctor when they experience a major symptom of ovarian cancer, according to the charity Target Ovarian Cancer.
When faced with persistent bloating, 34% of 1,142 women questioned by YouGov said they would visit their general physician.
Half said they would change their diet by doing things like cutting out gluten or eating probiotic yoghurts.
The charity is concerned about the ‘alarmingly low rate of awareness’ of bloating as a symptom of cancer.
Previous research by the charity has shown that only one in five women could name it as a symptom.
The survey spoke to women across the UK and asked what they would do if they were ‘bloated regularly’.
Those polled were allowed to chose more than one option but only 392 said they would book an appointment with their GP.
‘You never dream it will happen to you’
Laura Everley, who is 38, and from Crawley, West Sussex, England was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014.
Before she was diagnosed she said she was experiencing all of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, including bloating.
“I thought that maybe I might have irritable bowel syndrome because there are similar symptoms.
“I’d even tried going gluten-free, but it had made no difference. The idea of cancer hadn’t even entered my head. You just never dream this is going to happen to you.”
She has now finished treatment and is doing well.
NHS England advice is that anyone who has been feeling bloated most days for the last three weeks should tell their doctor.
Bloating may be caused by other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and pre-menstrual syndrome, but if it is persistent and doesn’t come and go it should be checked out.
The disease is more likely to develop in women over 55, but the charity found this age group was the least likely to check symptoms online, so the least likely to educate themselves that it could be ovarian cancer.
In the 18 to 24 age group 64% said they would do an online search.
The charity said the lack of awareness meant women did not get sent for the correct ovarian cancer tests quickly, so they risked missing out on crucial early diagnosis.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
- Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
- Pelvic or abdominal pain (tummy and below)
- Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)
- Changes in bowel habit (eg diarrhoea or constipation)
- Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Unexplained weight loss
Any bleeding after the menopause should always be investigated by a general physician.
Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “A probiotic yoghurt should not be preventing a woman from visiting the GP promptly if something is worrying her.”
She added, “Women should not be risking their lives because of the enduring awareness gap around the symptoms of ovarian cancer. If women know ovarian cancer symptoms such as persistent bloating and are able to link them to ovarian cancer early on, lives will be saved.”