Expert / 12 March, 2019 / Wellbeing of Women
Every day in the UK, 20 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries grow and multiply uncontrollably, producing a tumour. Every day in the UK, 20 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That means there are about 7,400 new cases of ovarian cancer every year, with that number expected to increase by 15% before the year 2035. It is the 5th most common cancer in females in the UK, behind breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer, and cancer of the uterus, and the 6th most common cause of cancer death.
Ovarian cancer survival is significantly improving. In 1970, less than one fifth of women survived beyond 10 years. Now, more than a third of women in England and Wales survive their disease for 10 years or more.
Ovarian cancer mainly affects women who have already gone through the menopause, however it can affect women at any age. Family history of breast or ovarian cancer, obesity and smoking are also potential risk factors.
Early diagnosis is vital in a positive outcome. When diagnosed at its earliest stage, 90% of women will survive for 5 years or more, while less than 5% will survive when diagnosed at its latest stage. 11% of ovarian cancer cases are preventable, so knowing the signs and symptoms is crucial.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be similar to those of other conditions, so it is important to understand what to look for.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly over a long period of time, it is important that you see your GP:
Your GP will carry out a series of tests, including feeling your tummy to check for swelling or lumps, an internal examination, and a blood sample. The blood test will look for the substance CA125, which is produced by ovarian cancer cells and released into the blood. If the test comes back positive, an ultrasound will be performed to look for changes in your ovaries. Further tests, such as CT, X-ray, and biopsy can be done to confirm the results.
Surgery is the main treatment for ovarian cancer, which aims to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Chemotherapy is another treatment option, often used in conjunction with surgery, where medication is taken, intravenously or by tablets, to kill cancer cells. Targeting cancer cells using beams of radiation, known as radiotherapy, is less often used for ovarian cancer, but acts to kill cancer cells leftover after surgery or to shrink tumours and reduce symptoms in cases where it cannot be cured.
UK charity Wellbeing of Women is investing in a number of research projects looking at ovarian cancer. We are committed to developing early diagnostics as well as new and improved treatments.
We are funding Dr David Jeevan at the University of Birmingham to develop a new test for ovarian cancer which detects changes in hormone patterns in urine. While scientists at the University of Manchester hope to find a new blood test for ovarian cancer, which would help doctors diagnose the disease before it’s too late.
One of the most distressing elements of ovarian cancer is that it develops a resistance to chemotherapy over time. Many women who initially respond well to treatment – surgery and chemotherapy – relapse within two years. Our researcher at Barts Cancer Institute Dr Sarah McClelland hopes to learn more about how ovarian cancer cells evade chemotherapy treatment in order to develop drugs that can prevent resistance. We are also funding Dr Rachel Pounds at the University of Birmingham who is using new technology to find out why cancer cells are resistant to chemotherapy to improve treatments for ovarian cancer.
Wellbeing of Women is funding the first UK study assessing the treatment by oncology teams of older women with ovarian cancer, led by Dr Susana Banerjee at the Royal Marsden. Around 7,300 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, with over half of all new diagnoses occurring in women over the age of 65. The UK average 5-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is very low at 43% but falls to only 35% in women over 70. Older women are less likely to complete a planned treatment course as it is believed by that they are unable to tolerate the treatment because of fragility and other medical conditions. As a result, 50% of women aged 75 or older receive no chemotherapy.
Founded 55 years ago, Wellbeing of Women is one of the only charities finding cures and treatments across the breadth of female reproductive health, including pregnancy & childbirth, fertility, gynaecological cancers, and overlooked areas like endometriosis, PCOS and the menopause. Many of the routine tests and treatments that form everyday clinical practice can be traced back to our work, such as the use of ultrasound in pregnancy and the importance of taking folic acid for the health of the unborn baby. We also funded Professor Henry Kitchener, who linked HPV to cervical cancer which led to the HPV vaccination program in schools, making cervical cancer preventable for the first time. Only 2.48% of publicly funded research is dedicated to reproductive health and childbirth which makes our work vital.
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