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Ovarian cancer death rates fall

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
ovarian cancer silhouette and ribbon

20th November 2012 - The number of women in England dying from ovarian cancer has fallen by around 20% in a decade, according to new figures.

The National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) says ovarian cancer now kills just under nine women in every 100,000 women compared to more than 11 women in every 100,000 at the beginning of the century.

The most dramatic reduction in deaths is among those aged 40 to 69.

However, cancer charities say there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to improve survival rates.

Hard to diagnose

Almost 7,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, making it the fifth most common cancer. It is a type of cancer that is notoriously hard to treat because it comprises a group of different disease types which can be hard to diagnose and often show up when the cancer is at an advanced stage.

The NCIN says that death rates from ovarian cancer were:

  • 11.2 women in every 100,000 in 2001
  • 8.8 women in every 100,000 in 2010

However, the report found that the chance of surviving the disease varies widely between ages, becoming increasingly worse with age, even after adjusting for the higher background mortality in the older population generally.

For women aged 15-39 diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 84% survived their disease for at least five years compared with just 14% of those aged over 85 years at diagnosis.

Improvements in diagnosis

Dr Andy Nordin, gynaecological oncologist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and study author, says in a statement: "This drop in deaths may reflect improvements in detecting and treating the disease, such as improvements in scanning, surgery and chemotherapy treatments.

"Additionally, over the past decade, ovarian cancer patients throughout the UK have experienced better management due to organisation of ovarian cancer care in specialist gynaecological cancer centres, planning of care by teams of cancer experts and specialist surgery by specially trained and accredited gynaecological oncologists."

Older women's survival: 'Disappointing'

Dr Siobhan McClelland, head of research and evidence at Macmillan Cancer Support, says in an emailed statement: "It is fantastic news to see that fewer women in England are dying from ovarian cancer. However it is extremely disappointing to see older women still have such a lower chance of survival than their younger counterparts.

"We know systematic under-treatment of older cancer patients has left many with significantly reduced odds of survival.  Too often decisions about their treatment are based on their age alone, not their overall physical and mental health. This needs to change.

“The older people’s pilots carried out by Macmillan, Age UK and the Department of Health will be reporting soon and the NHS must implement the key recommendations to improve cancer care for older cancer patients."

Hazel Nunn, head of evidence and health information at Cancer Research UK, says in a statement: "It’s encouraging to see that the number of women dying from ovarian cancer is falling, especially as ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose and treat. It may be that use of the contraceptive pill, which has a protective effect, has helped to halt the rise in ovarian cancer rates.

"Still, around 7,000 women develop the disease each year," she says and advises women to see their doctor: "if you experience tummy pain, bloating or a sense of feeling full that won’t go away which happens on most days. It’s most likely to be something much less serious than ovarian cancer but it’s still worth getting checked out."

Published on November 20, 2012

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