Less than 24 hours ago, The UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS) reported its final results, raising the prospect of a UK ovarian cancer screening programme at some point in the future. Target Ovarian Cancer’s Chief Executive Annwen Jones reflects on the impact of this research.
I firstly want to reflect on the scale of yesterday’s findings. This trial included over 200,000 women, 13 regional test centres and ran over 15 years. It is unprecedented in the history of ovarian cancer research, and it shows the extraordinary drive and commitment among researchers, clinicians, charities and women to radically transform women’s chances of surviving ovarian cancer.
And yesterday’s event, a collaborative event by all four UK ovarian cancer charities, with such high profile spokespeople, with the purpose of updating the very people who made the trial possible, demonstrates that commitment further.
There is real promise in the data published which is a huge credit to the lead investigators Professor Ian Jacobs and Professor Usha Menon and the research team, and of course to the many, many women who volunteered to take part. The results clearly drive the momentum for additional research. It was announced yesterday that the study is to run for another three years.
While the findings may not yet show everything we may have hoped for, we should not underestimate their significance in our collective journey to better understand, diagnose and ultimately cure ovarian cancer.
A national ovarian cancer screening programme is the Holy Grail, but as it is still some way off, it is no less imperative now than it was before, to do all that we can for women who have yet to be diagnosed. While we await further results from UKCTOCS, it’s essential that we do everything in our power to ensure women receive the best and earliest possible diagnosis, so women have the best treatment options and that more women may survive the disease.
Still so much to do
We have already achieved so much together. Recent statistics from Public Health England showed us that the percentage of women diagnosed through emergency admission has fallen sharply from 32 per cent to 26 per cent. This means 400 fewer women every year who are diagnosed in A&E, distressed and in pain, with low chances of survival. It means the message is beginning to get through to women and to their GPs, but there is so much more to do.
- Our research shows just one in five women with ovarian cancer are currently diagnosed within a month. The new Cancer Strategy for England promises the majority of patients the opportunity to have their cancer diagnosed or ruled out within just four weeks. We have to make sure this includes women with ovarian cancer.
- Many GPs report that they lack access to, or have requests refused for, basic diagnostic tests. The Cancer Strategy commits that all GPs will have direct access to diagnostic tests by the end of the year and it is the responsibility of all of us here to make sure this promise is delivered.
- While a third of GPs have now undertaken our symptoms awareness training, many others are still uncertain of the best referral pathway. NHS England is now trialling referrals for so-called ‘vague symptoms’, where diagnostic centres can either diagnose or rule cancer out. We need to support the development and roll-out of these centres so all GPs are supported to diagnose women early.
- And of course it is essential that we see similar activity and similar commitments across all the nations of the UK, and that women in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland benefit from any advances as much as anyone else does.
Building on momentum
It’s not just early diagnosis that needs our attention. We know there’s room for improvement across the whole care pathway. All women with ovarian cancer should receive the very best surgery and women need access to the newest and most promising drugs. Both things we unfortunately know are not the case at the moment.
UKCTOCS, and the interest in it, has shown the drive and the momentum there is to radically improve the diagnosis of and survival rates for ovarian cancer. We now have to build on this and make sure we deliver both for the women with ovarian cancer today and for those we know will be diagnosed tomorrow.
Target Ovarian Cancer celebrates and applauds everyone who is working so hard. For it is our commitment and collective endeavours that will, ultimately, save lives.