How Does Ovarian Cancer Affect Older Women?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

While anyone with ovaries can develop ovarian cancer, women aged 65 or older are at higher risk of developing the disease. They can benefit from extra attention regarding diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes.

Knowing more about the different factors that impact older women with ovarian cancer can help you make informed decisions about your treatment and overall healthcare.

The link between ovarian cancer and age

More than half of all cancers are diagnosed in those over the age of 65. The risk of the disease peaks for women who are in their 70s. It is estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancer diagnoses are made in women who have not yet entered menopause.1,2

Research shows that outcomes for older women with ovarian cancer are worse than those in younger women with the same diagnosis. One study found that the 5-year survival rate of women over 60 years old with ovarian cancer was about 35 percent. This is compared to a 5-year survival rate of about 58 percent for women between 30 and 60 years old, and a rate of about 78 percent for those younger than 30.2

Research also shows that while ovarian cancer mortality rates in younger women have declined in recent years, they have not fallen as much for older women.2

Special considerations with older women and ovarian cancer

As people get older, the risk of multiple comorbidities increases. Comorbidities are 2 or more health conditions occurring at the same time. Older women may also have a higher rate of taking various medicines, cognitive impairment, depression, weakness, poor nutrition, and limited social support. All of these can be possible predictors of poor outcomes for those with cancer.1,2

The bodies of older adults have also undergone the normal changes that come with aging. This means they may not be able to withstand certain cancer drug therapies and treatment complications. Older women are often diagnosed with more advanced ovarian cancer, which also negatively impacts outcomes.2

Age and ovarian cancer treatment

One study found that older women with ovarian cancer were 3 times less likely to receive chemotherapy and surgery than younger women with the same diagnosis. Researchers think this is related to them having more advanced disease and physical limitations. These things may have influenced treatment decisions.3

Older women get the same benefits from aggressive surgery for advanced ovarian cancer as younger women do. However, they have a higher risk of surgery complications. Since each person is different, the risks and benefits of surgery should be evaluated on an individual basis.4

Things to consider

Older women living with ovarian cancer, especially advanced ovarian cancer, bring different health concerns to their doctors. However, that does not mean their treatment should be reduced. Age alone should not be the main factor in choosing treatment options.

The geriatric assessment (GA) is the gold standard for assessing any potential frailty. The GA helps providers assess different factors in treatment decisions, including:1,4

  • Functional status (the ability to perform normal daily activities to maintain health and well-being)
  • Comorbidities (having 2 or more health conditions at the same time)
  • Cognition and psychological status
  • Social supports
  • Nutrition

The GA can help doctors choose the best treatment option and determine if there are any risks that might occur if chemotherapy or surgery is done in older women with ovarian cancer.4

Treatment for older women with ovarian cancer can be more complex. If you are over 65 and have ovarian cancer, talk with your doctor about whether a geriatric specialist is part of your treatment team or whether one will be consulted. Your care is important, and age alone should not be a deciding factor in your treatment.

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