UK ovarian cancer survival rate lags behind other countries, say researchers

 

Women are less likely to survive ovarian cancer in the UK than in other comparable countries, researchers have said.

Differences in treatment for advanced ovarian cancer - which has low survival rates in the UK - could explain why the UK lags behind other countries, according to a study.

While the UK has a similar proportion of women diagnosed with the disease as in Australia, Canada, Denmark and Norway, low survival rates for UK patients with more advanced ovarian cancer could be attributable to differences in access to treatment or quality of care, the authors said.

The researchers, from Cancer Research UK's Cancer Survival Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined the records of 20,000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer between 2004 and 2007.

The study, published in Gynaecologic Oncology, found that in the UK 69% of women survived for at least one year, compared with 72% in Denmark and between 74% and 75% in Australia, Canada and Norway.

The research, which is part of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership, also found that survival in the UK was lower among women whose cancer was diagnosed at a late stage and for those whose disease stage was not recorded.

For women aged 70 or over, the one-year survival rate for those who had late-stage ovarian cancer was 35% in the UK, compared with 45% in Canada.

UK consultants were also worse at recording the stage of the disease at diagnosis, the authors said.

Lead author Dr Bernard Rachet said: "Our research is the first population-based study to examine whether low ovarian cancer survival in the UK is due to more women being diagnosed with advanced disease, or to the outcome of treatment in the UK being inferior at each stage.

"The results show that the proportion of women with advanced disease is similar to that in other countries, but that survival for women with advanced disease is much lower.

"This suggests that the success of treatment is lower in the UK, and more effort should be made to ensure that UK women with ovarian cancer have the same access to the best treatments."

Study author Dr John Butler added: "Ovarian cancer can be very difficult to treat, because it's not just one disease but several different diseases, depending on the type of the tumour. The most common form, high-grade serous ovarian cancer, is thought to develop in the fallopian tube, rather than the ovary, and it often spreads rapidly before a woman notices any symptoms.

"This is why many ovarian cancers are not detected until they are more advanced. But in order for us to understand why we have lower ovarian cancer survival and how we can focus on improving treatment for later-stage disease, the UK must get better at recording the stage of disease at diagnosis."

Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: "The results show that achieving earlier diagnosis remains vital for improving overall survival.

"If women are diagnosed when the cancer is still in its early stages, before it has spread to other parts of the body, it is far more likely that treatment will be successful. In addition treatment must be improved for advanced stage cancers."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are working to bring England's survival rates for all cancers up to the level of the best - by investing in earlier diagnosis and ensuring people get the best possible treatment.

"The National Institute of Clinical Excellence has recently published clinical guidance and quality standards for ovarian cancer, to help professionals recognise the condition and make it clear what good care looks like. We would expect clinicians to put this guidance into practice and make sure all patients are offered the treatment that will work best for them."

PA

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