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Retail loyalty card data could identify ovarian cancer earlier

A new study suggests that data from retail loyalty cards could help to spot ovarian cancer cases earlier

A new study suggests that data from retail loyalty cards could help to spot ovarian cancer cases earlier.

The Imperial College London led study of almost 300 women found that pain and indigestion medication purchases were higher in women who were subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer compared to women who did not have it.

The change in purchases could be seen eight months before diagnosis.

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‘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,’ said lead author for the study, Dr James Flanagan.

Cancer Research UK funded the study which included loyalty card data from two UK-based high street retailers.

The researchers from Imperial College London and University of Birmingham studied six years’ worth of purchase histories from the participants.

Dr David Crosby, head of prevention and early detection research at Cancer Research UK said: ‘Today, in the digital age, we live with a wealth of data at our fingertips. Studies like this are a great example of how we can harness this information for good and help us detect cancer earlier.’

On average, participants with ovarian cancer began to recognise their symptoms about four and a half months before diagnosis.

Fiona Murphy, an ovarian cancer patient, who helped to develop the study said: ‘I lived on Gaviscon for 18 months prior to my diagnosis, it went everywhere with me due to severe acid reflux.’

Ms Murphy was diagnosed with mucinous ovarian cancer in 2007 after being symptomatic for nearly two years.

‘I wanted to help with developing this study because I had the wrong diagnosis for nearly two year. If there is a way to get an earlier diagnosis, I want to help people who are in the same position I was in.’

Cancer Research UK has provided further funding for the research team to continue investigating whether purchases of over-the-counter products could be used to detect other cancers.