Survival rates improving for cancer of the womb but its incidence climbs in the over 60s

Cancer Research UK

Five-year survival rates for womb cancer* have risen to 77 per cent, an improvement of 16 per cent in the last 30 years.

But its incidence among women aged 60-79 has risen by 30 per cent in less than a decade - according to a report published today by Cancer Research UK**. The increasing numbers of women being diagnosed shows a need for greater awareness of the disease, its symptoms and the risk factors.

Cancer of the womb affects around 6,000 women in the UK each year - twice as many as cervical cancer - and accounts for four per cent of all female cancers. It is the fifth most common cancer in women and is the second most common cancer of the female reproductive system, after ovarian cancer.

Although survival is improving and around three-quarters of women diagnosed with womb cancer are successfully treated, the disease still causes around 1,500 deaths a year. Five-year survival rates are as low as 25 per cent for women who present with advanced disease, and therefore early detection is crucial.

Over 90 per cent of womb cancers occur in women over the age of 50 and 75 per cent in women who have been through the menopause. In the 60-79 age group, incidence of womb cancer has climbed from 48 cases per 100,000 in 1993 to 63 in 2001. Awareness of the disease is low and consequently women may not be aware that vaginal bleeding after the menopause is a symptom of womb cancer.

The standard treatment for womb cancer is surgery in the form of a hysterectomy. For women with early stage disease, no further treatment is usually necessary, but women with more advanced disease also need radiotherapy.

Report author Lucy Boyd, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist, said: “It’s encouraging to see that the incidence of womb cancer in the UK is among the lowest in Europe, but the rise in cases in older women is a concern.

“We feel it is vitally important to raise awareness of this disease and encourage women to look out for the early symptoms, which can include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, bleeding after the menopause and less commonly, low pelvic pain. Survival rates would be even better if more women reported their symptoms to their doctor at an earlier stage.”

It is unclear exactly what causes womb cancer, but there are some things that are known to increase a woman’s risk. Overweight and obese women are twice as likely to develop womb cancer as women of a healthy weight. This is due to higher than normal exposure to the hormone oestrogen, the production of which is greater in overweight and obese women.

Other factors that increase risk include not having had children, late menopause and the drug tamoxifen, which is used to treat and prevent breast cancer.

Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK, said:

“The improved survival rates are a result of the advances that have been made in successfully treating this disease. However, it is also clear that even more lives would be saved if awareness of this disease were better.

”Cancer Research UK will strive to make more women aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with womb cancer, and the options available to help women reduce their risk of the disease. Womb cancer in particular has the strongest links to obesity - a woman with a healthy bodyweight has half the risk an obese woman has of getting the disease.”

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

*The report focuses on tumours of the body of the uterus (corpus uteri). Womb cancer can be called by many different names. Doctors often call it uterine cancer because the uterus is the medical name for the womb. The endometrium is the lining of the womb and womb cancer is also known as endometrial cancer.

**Corpus uteri cancer UK - the full report is available from the press office.

There are a limited number of case studies available for interview.

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The Hysterectomy Association

The Hysterectomy Association was set up in 1997 to provide information and support to women who are thinking about, or who have had, a hysterectomy. The organisation offers a variety of services, including free online information and the best 'woman to woman' support network in the UK.

They also run a number of workshops dealing with various aspects of a hysterectomy that women can book onto and they have a counselling service for women (or their families) who have been affected emotionally by a hysterectomy. For further information visit the Hysterectomy Association website or telephone 0871 781 1141.

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