Facts and figures

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How common is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer death in women, after breast, lung and bowel cancer.  However, the average GP will see only one case of ovarian cancer every five years.

Each year in the UK there are approximately

  • 7,000 cases of ovarian cancer1. This is roughly 135 women each week
  • 4,300 deaths from ovarian cancer2

Why is early diagnosis so important?

Most women are diagnosed once the cancer has already spread which makes treatment more challenging. The current five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 46 per cent. If diagnosed at the earliest stage, up to 90 per cent of women would survive five years or more3. This is why early diagnosis is so important.

  • Research has shown that just 3 per cent of women in the UK are very confident about recognising a symptom of ovarian cancer4
  • Delays in diagnosing ovarian cancer are not uncommon. Women sometimes delay seeing their GP, and GPs sometimes do not recognise the potential importance of the symptoms women report5

What increases the risk of someone developing ovarian cancer?

The two most important aspects affecting a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime are age, and family history6.

  • The risk of ovarian cancer does increase with age, and particularly after the menopause.  Over eight in ten cases will occur in women who have gone through the menopause.
  • Most cases of ovarian cancer are ‘sporadic’ or one offs. This means that close female relatives of someone with ovarian cancer do not necessarily face an increased risk of developing the disease themselves. However in around one in every ten cases, a family link can be identified. If a woman has two or more close family relatives with a history of ovarian cancer, or ovarian cancer and/or breast cancer then she should discuss her family history with her doctor. Both sides of a woman’s family (mother and father) should be considered.

Can anything reduce the risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer?

There are a number of things which significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, but none offer complete protection.

  • Having children
  • Breastfeeding
  • Taking the oral contraceptive pill for a number of years

Can ovarian cancer be confused with other conditions?

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often similar to those of other less serious but more common conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.  However the increased frequency and persistency of the symptoms are what help to distinguish between ovarian cancer and other conditions. It should be noted that women over the age of 50 rarely develop irritable bowel syndrome, and should a GP think this is the case, they should make sure they have considered other causes such as ovarian cancer7.

How does the UK’s survival rates for ovarian cancer compare to other countries?

England has the lowest survival rate for ovarian cancer in Europe. It is estimated that in the UK, if survival rates matched the best survival rates in Europe, 500 women’s lives would be saved every year8.

References

  1. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 29 July 2014.
  2. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 29 July 2014.
  3. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 29 July 2014.
  4. Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012. Ipsos Mori. 15 Jan 2014, page 15.
  5. Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder Study 2012. Ipsos Mori. 15 Jan 2014, page 39.
  6. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 12 September 2014.
  7. NICE “Ovarian cancer: The recognition and initial management of ovarian cancer” [online]. Accessed 12 September 2014.
  8. What if cancer survival in Britain were the same as in Europe: how many deaths are avoidable? M Abdel-Rahman, D Stockton, B Rachet, T Hakulinen, and M P Coleman. Br J Cancer. Dec 3, 2009; 101(Suppl 2): S115–S124. Accessed 29 Jul 2014.