Death rates from ovarian cancer in the UK are predicted to have fallen by 17% in 2022 compared with five years ago, according to research.
Researchers said the trend was mainly due to the use of oral contraceptives, a factor that also explains the difference between the UK and European Union countries, which are projected to record a drop in death rates of 7% this year. The findings were published in the journal Annals of Oncology.
“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,” said the lead author, Prof Carlo La Vecchia, of the University of Milan.
“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 research predicts 4,000 women will die from ovarian cancer in the UK in 2022. The death rate is projected to be 4.57 women per 100,000. In the 1970s, the UK had the highest death rate in Europe at nearly nine per 100,000, the researchers said, but the rate has declined ever since.
“Long-term use of oral contraceptives reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by 40% in middle-aged and elderly women,” said La Vecchia. “Other factors may also be partially responsible, such as a reduced use of hormone replacement therapy.” Improvements in diagnosis and treatment may also be contributing, he added.
“However, these factors are minor compared to the long-term protective effect of oral contraceptives,” he said. “We expect these favourable trends in ovarian cancer deaths to continue.”
Annwen Jones, the chief executive of the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “We can be cautiously optimistic about this news, which shows the protective effects of hormonal contraception against ovarian cancer. These effects are thought to occur because they limit the number of ovulations in a lifetime, which may lower the risk of cancer developing.
“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. 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.”
More widely, the new research predicts that death rates from the 10 most common cancers will continue to fall in the UK in 2022, although the overall numbers dying will go up because of the ageing population.
There will be 176,800 deaths from cancer in the UK in 2022, the research says. This corresponds to a fall of 7% (113.2 per 100,000) in men and 6% (87.6 per 100,000) in women in the UK since 2017.
The researchers warned that their predictions should be interpreted with caution and could yet be affected by the pandemic this year.