Ovarian cancer: Patients can become long-term survivors

Good news from gynaecological oncology: 30 to 40% of all patients with ovarian cancer are now long-term survivors. Dr Hannah Woopen describes how this development came about.

Interview with Dr Hannah Woopen

Dr Woopen, has the number of women who survive long-term after gynaecological cancer increased in recent years?

Dr. Woopen: Yes. We define long-term survival as survival of at least five years after gynaecological tumour disease. In Germany, there are currently a total of five million cancer survivors, of which 3.5 million are long-term survivors. Survival rates are increasing in all oncological entities - including ovarian cancer. Of ovarian cancer patients, 30 to 40 percent become long-term survivors.

In your experience, what factors contribute to cancer patients' long-term survival?

Dr. Woopen: In principle, any woman with gynaecological cancer can become a long-term survivor. But there are of course certain factors that are associated with better survival. Prognostic factors in ovarian cancer for longer life after cancer are, for example: age, tumour stage, macroscopic tumour freedom and response to chemotherapy. A younger woman with a lower tumour stage and optimal therapy survives statistically longer, but there are also many patients with less favourable prognostic factors among the long-term survivors.

What influence does the patient herself have?

Dr. Woopen: There are data for patients with ovarian cancer and cervical cancer that show that a good quality of life is associated with longer survival. A healthy lifestyle and regular exercise can be crucial in improving quality of life. Sport has been shown to help with long-term side effects such as fatigue and depression and also plays an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, prevention also includes regularly attending recommended check-ups, e.g. a mammogram every 2 years. It is an advantage to have a good social network; self-help groups can also be very helpful.

To what extent do long-term survivors suffer later from the consequences of cancer treatment?

Dr. Woopen: Almost half of long-term survivors still have symptoms caused by the cancer or cancer therapy after many years. According to data from the Expression IV survey of 1,600 long-term survivors of ovarian cancer, the most common long-term side effects are fatigue, polyneuropathy and "post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment".

Where do you see a need for action to improve not only long-term survival but also the quality of life of those affected?

Dr. Woopen: We recommend lifelong tumour follow-up with structured recording and therapy of long-term side effects. In addition, the topic of prevention should play a role from the very beginning. In everyday clinical practice, it has been shown that holistic support for long-term survivors in a specialised survivorship consultation has a great added value for the patients.

About Dr. Hannah Woopen

Dr. med. Hannah Woopen, from the Charité University Hospital (in German: Charité - Universitätsmedizin), dedicates her research focus to the topic of "Long-term survival in patients with ovarian cancer". In this context, she is also the study leader of the project "Carolin meets HANNA".