Death rates from ovarian cancer predicted to fall in the UK this year

Researchers suggest the fall is mainly due to the use of oral contraceptives.

Woman using microscope
Woman using microscope

Ovarian cancer death rates are predicted to fall by 17% in the UK this year compared to 2017, a study suggests.

The data indicates the rates will fall by 7% in EU countries, with researchers suggesting the falls are mainly due to the use of oral contraceptives.

This also accounts for the differences between countries, the experts say.

Carlo La Vecchia, a professor at the University of Milan, Italy, said: “The earlier and greater use of oral contraceptives in the UK than in most EU countries for generations of women born since the 1930s has a major role in these trends.

“In Italy, Spain, Poland etc, oral contraceptives were made available considerably later, and hence the favourable trends in these countries started later and are smaller.”

The study also predicts death rates from the 10 most common cancers will continue to fall.

Around 4,000 women in the UK are predicted to die from ovarian cancer in the UK in 2022.

Across the EU countries the researchers predict 26,500 women will die from the condition.

Prof La Vecchia explained: “Long-term use of oral contraceptives reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by 40% in middle-aged and elderly women.

“Other factors may also be partially responsible, such as a reduced use of hormone replacement therapy.”

He added that while improvements in diagnosis, surgery and better treatments may also contribute to improved survival, these factors are minor compared to the long-term protective effect of oral contraceptives.

“We expect these favourable trends in ovarian cancer deaths to continue,” Prof La Vecchia said.

Research suggests that in the 1970s the UK had the highest death rate in Europe at nearly nine per 100,000, but then there was a steep decline.

Death rates in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain were all lower but showed a rise until the 1980s when they started to decline.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We can be cautiously optimistic about this news.

“However, whereas ovarian cancer death rates are falling in the UK, our survival rates still lag behind, and numbers diagnosed are set to increase because of an ageing population.

“We now need to see a major increase in investment in ovarian cancer research.

“Eleven women still die every day in the UK and we urgently need to find better ways to detect the disease earlier and develop new treatments.”

The new study predicts death rates from the 10 most common cancers will continue to fall in most European countries in 2022, although the numbers of people dying will go up due to ageing populations.

They suggest that in the UK there will be 176,800 deaths from cancer, corresponding to a fall of 7% in men and 6% in women.

The research indicates that lung cancer deaths continue to rise in EU women (up 2%), and womb and cervical cancers deaths are up 5% in UK women.

The researchers analysed cancer death rates in the EU 27 member states as a whole, and separately in the UK in order to be able to compare with previous years when the UK was still a member of the union.

Data was collected from the World Health Organisation and Eurostat databases from 1970 to 2017, or to 2016 for the UK.

This is the 12th consecutive year the researchers have published these predictions, published in the Annals of Oncology journal.

It is estimated that nearly 5.4 million cancer deaths have been avoided between 1989 and 2022 in the EU.

In the UK, just over a million deaths were avoided over the same period, including 73,000 in 2022.

However, the scientists warn that their predictions should be interpreted with caution and that they could be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic this year.

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