Dr Susana Banerjee, Consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, is improving ovarian cancer outcomes in older women.
Around 7000 women a year in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and half of these women will be over the age of 65. Globally, women with ovarian cancer over the age of 70 have disproportionately poor survival compared to those under 70 and this difference is particularly marked in the UK. Current gold standard treatments are based on the results of clinical trials that often do not include older less fit patients and therefore how well these treatments work and are tolerated in older patients with more complex medical and social issues is not known.
Unfortunately, the UK lags behind Europe and the United States in the development of research programmes dedicated to improving outcomes for older patients. The amount of research into the best treatments for older women with gynaecological malignancies is gradually increasing but the UK has contributed very little to this field so far. There is a desperate need to address this growing issue in the UK and more focus and attention is urgently required to make significant improvements in the assessment and management of older women with ovarian cancer to improve not only survival outcomes, the quality of life and functional independence of older women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
The FAIR-O study, the first of its kind in the UK aims to assess whether oncology teams can perform this holistic assessment and, using clear guidelines written up by an expert multi-disciplinary team, address problems identified. Other crucial issues such as quality of life and how independent patients remain through chemotherapy will also be assessed. The amount and quality of muscle a woman has at the beginning of chemotherapy, appears to affect how well treatment is tolerated and how well women do in the long-term. This can be assessed on the routine CT scans that women have through treatment and this exciting new avenue will be included in this study. Further exploratory work will assess whether signals in the blood or tumour sample can help us understand why some patients suffer with more side effects than others and why some patients have better outcomes.
Together, we are committed to improving outcomes for older women with gynaecological cancers- an area which has lacked research funding to date.