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Young women survive ovarian cancer longer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

7 November 2006

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Younger women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a greater chance of surviving the disease for five years or more, according to new research published in the British Journal of Cancer* today (Tuesday).

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to treat unless it is detected early, and while treatment for the disease has advanced over the last 20 years, long term survival rates have shown only moderate improvement. Understanding the differences in survival for different age groups may help to improve survival further.

Researchers at Stanford University, California, looked at the records of more than 28,000 American women diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer between 1988 and 2001. They found that women diagnosed under the age of 60 were more likely to survive for at least five years than women over 60. Women diagnosed under 30 generally had even better survival rates, although the disease is rare in this age group.

Of those women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at less than 30 years of age, 79 per cent were still alive five years later. Of those diagnosed between 30 and 60 years, the figure was 59 per cent, compared to 35 per cent for those diagnosed when aged over 60.

The trend in age-specific survival rates for ovarian cancer contrasts with that for breast cancer, where women diagnosed at a younger age often have a more aggressive form of cancer so have a poorer prognosis than older women.

It is possible that younger ovarian cancer patients have had their cancer detected at an earlier stage, which improves their chances – although the exact reason for the difference is unclear, and may be due to biological differences in the type of ovarian cancer.

The study also found there was no significant difference in survival for women aged between 16 and 40 – i.e., of childbearing age – treated with uterine-sparing surgery and for those who underwent standard surgery, which includes removing the womb and therefore leaves the patient unable to have children.

Dr John Chan, lead author of the report, said: “Our results suggest that more pre-menopausal women diagnosed with ovarian cancer can be considered for fertility-sparing surgery. Also, given the overall encouraging survival rates in this age group, we can potentially make a significant impact on the outcomes of these young women with novel strategies.”

Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, which owns the British Journal of Cancer, said: “This is a large study that shows significantly better survival of ovarian cancer in younger women. Ovarian cancer is often referred to as ‘the silent killer’ because it is difficult to detect at an early stage when it is easier to treat. Continued improvements in earlier detection and treatment will lead to better survival rates for all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”


For media enquiries please contact Michael Regnier in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8309 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.