Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynaecological cancer in the UK, and its incidence is rising. It is the fifth most common cancer in women, with a lifetime risk of about 2% in England and Wales.

The outcome for women with ovarian cancer is generally poor, with an overall 5-year survival rate of less than 35%. This is because most women who have ovarian cancer present with advanced disease. The stage of the disease is the most important factor affecting outcome. The woman's general health at the time of presentation is also important because it affects what treatments can be used. Most women have had symptoms for months before presentation, and there are often delays between presentation and specialist referral. There is a need for greater awareness of the disease and also for initial investigations in primary and secondary care that enable earlier referral and optimum treatment.

Despite the relatively poor overall survival rates for ovarian cancer, there has been a two-fold increase in survival over the last 30 years. This has coincided with the advent of effective chemotherapy, and the introduction of platinum-based agents in particular, as well as changes in surgical practice. More recently, there has been a significant shift towards greater specialisation in the delivery of care, resulting from the implementation of the cancer service guidance 'Improving outcomes in gynaecological cancers'[1]. It is likely that some or all of these changes have contributed to the improved survival rates, emphasising the need to ensure that women with diagnosed ovarian cancer are treated in specialist centres that can provide comprehensive cancer care.

This guideline does not cover the entire care pathway for ovarian cancer. It focuses on areas where there is uncertainty or wide variation in clinical practice with regard to the detection, diagnosis and initial management of ovarian cancer. The guideline recommendations are applicable to women with epithelial ovarian cancer (the most common type of ovarian cancer), as well as women with fallopian tube carcinoma, primary peritoneal carcinoma or borderline ovarian cancer (see section 2 for further details).

The guideline assumes that prescribers will use a drug's summary of product characteristics to inform decisions made with individual patients.

[1] Improving outcomes in gynaecological cancers. Cancer service guidance (1999). Department of Health, National Cancer Guidance Steering Group

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