Death rate from ovarian cancer in England has fallen by a fifth since 2001

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 20 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7861
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1London

The mortality rate from ovarian cancer in England fell from 11.2 women in every 100 000 (3820 cases) in 2001 to 8.8 per 100 000 (3453 cases) in 2010—a drop of about 20%, show latest figures.1

One year survival after diagnosis of ovarian cancer increased from 57% in the mid-1980s to 73% in 2010, and five year survival increased from 33% to 44%, says a report from the National Cancer Intelligence Network.

The most notable drop in deaths over the past 10 years has been among women aged 40-69 years. However, older women are faring less well, even after adjustment for the higher background mortality in the older population generally, says the report. The five year survival for women aged 15 to 39 years at diagnosis is 84% compared with 14% for those aged over 85 years at diagnosis.

In 2009 almost half of women with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer were in their 60s or 70s—and over 80% of deaths were in women aged 60 or over.

Andy Nordin, gynaecological oncologist at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and author of the report, said: “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.”

The incidence of ovarian cancer has remained fairly stable since the late 1980s, although it has dropped slightly in the past few years. As the risk of some types of ovarian cancer may be related to years of ovulation, the fall in the incidence of the disease could partly reflect the widespread use of hormonal contraceptives since the 1960s, said Nordin.

Commenting on the report, Siobhan McClelland, head of research and evidence at Macmillan Cancer Support, said, “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 undertreatment 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.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7861