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

  • 7,300 cases of ovarian cancer1. This is roughly 140 women each week
  • 4,100 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 4 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. 41 per cent of women reported having to visit their GP 3 times or more before being referred for diagnostic tests5

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.  Most 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 3 January 2017.
  2. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 3 January 2017.
  3. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 3 January 2017.
  4. Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder 2016 Target Ovarian Cancer accessed 3 January 2017.
  5. Target Ovarian Cancer Pathfinder 2016 Target Ovarian Cancer accessed 3 January 2017.
  6. Cancer Research UK [online]. Accessed 3 January 2017.
  7. NICE “Ovarian cancer: The recognition and initial management of ovarian cancer” [online]. Accessed 3 January 2017.
  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.