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New NHS data reveals England's ovarian cancer injustices

31 March 2022
Doctor

New NHS data shows that one in seven women diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year (13.6 per cent) die in the two months after diagnosis.

It is part of a report from NHS Digital shedding light on injustices linked to diagnosis, level of deprivation and age that disproportionately affected the 10,119 women who died within 12 months of an ovarian cancer diagnosis between 2013-2018 in England.

The data is from the Ovarian Cancer Audit Feasibility Pilot jointly funded by us, the British Gynaecological Cancer Society and Target Ovarian Cancer. It focuses on women dying within 12 months of a diagnosis and gives a fuller picture of the lottery of injustice faced by those diagnosed with the disease between 2013-2018.

This new data shows you are more likely to die sooner, depending on:

  • How far your ovarian cancer has spread (stage at diagnosis): women with stage IV disease are 10 times more likely to die within two months than women with stage I disease, after adjustment for other factors. Women for whom stage is unknown are 9.5 times more likely to die within two months, reflecting cases where women have been too ill to even complete the diagnostic process.
  • Whether you live in a more deprived area: those in the most deprived quintile are 50 per cent more likely to die within two months of diagnosis than those in the least deprived.
  • How you are diagnosed: those diagnosed via an emergency presentation like A&E are four times more likely to die within two months of diagnosis than those diagnosed via the two-week wait referral system after a visit to the GP.
  • Whether you are older when diagnosed: women over 80 are 40 per cent more likely to die within two months than women aged 70-79.

“This report is unequivocal on the survival lottery that women diagnosed with ovarian cancer face. It isn’t right that anyone’s survival depends on where they live, particularly when the evidence is in plain sight. We can’t keep ignoring this and, working with the NHS, there is much more that can and should be done.”

Cary Wakefield, Chief Executive of Ovarian Cancer Action

There has been progress for those diagnosed with ovarian cancer – more are surviving longer. A 2020 report shows one-year survival has risen from 57.5 per cent in 2005 to 68 per cent in 2017. Today’s report reveals a need to tackle systemic injustices in ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment. Improvements in how patients are diagnosed (diagnostic pathways) and tackling inequalities are major areas that need to be addressed. Access to data for clinical teams must also be prioritised to enable improvements in areas that have especially poor outcomes.

Professor Sudha Sundar, President of the British Gynaecological Cancer Society, said: “We’ve made a lot of progress but this data shows we need to do more. At the BGCS we’re committed to supporting the NHS to drive the best outcomes for everyone diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It’s clear we have a long way to go and significant issues to tackle.”

Alexandra Holden, Deputy Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This report reveals the scandal of over 750 women dying within two months of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. We stand together to condemn this in the strongest of terms, and we must now speed up progress in awareness, diagnosis and care. Today’s report shows us just how many lives are at stake if we do not take action now.”