Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be subtle and can also be caused by other, less serious health issues such as gastrointestinal problems, chronic back pain and urinary tract conditions, the disease is often diagnosed at a later stage when it is more difficult to treat. But researchers have found several new approaches to treatment that have the potential to improve survival rates for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
A new approach to chemotherapy
One of the new treatment options for advanced ovarian cancer doesn’t focus on new drugs or surgical techniques. Instead, it switches the usual order of treatments. Typically, women with advanced ovarian cancer undergo surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible followed by chemotherapy.
In a recent large phase III, randomized, controlled trial known as CHORUS, researchers in the UK reversed the order of treatment for women with stage 3 or 4 ovarian cancer. Of the 550 trial participants, 276 had standard treatment and 274 had the new approach.
They found that the women who underwent three rounds of platinum-based chemotherapy followed by surgery and three additional rounds of chemotherapy experienced fewer side effects, spent less time in the hospital after surgery, and had a lower mortality rate than the women who underwent standard treatment. The study authors noted that this new approach improved patients’ quality of life without compromising survival.
Other new ovarian cancer treatments to discuss with your doctor
There are a number of new therapies that have been recently approved by the FDA or are in clinical trials that you may want to discuss with your physician. Last year, the FDA approved a medication called Lynparza (olaparib), the first drug in a new class known as poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors, to treat advanced ovarian cancer. The drug is only for women who have already undergone other treatments for ovarian cancer and have certain mutations to the BRCA gene.
Other researchers recently concluded a phase II trial of an experimental immunotherapy agent made from cells from each woman’s tumor. In the small study, the cancer of the women who did not receive immunotherapy returned in an average of 14.5 months. In contrast, the cancer of those who received the treatment had not returned by the end of the study, a period of more than 14.5 months. The research team also noted that the immunotherapy was well tolerated by patients.
Another team of researchers has found patterns of DNA anomalies that can help predict how well a women will respond to platinum-based chemotherapy, the standard of care. They believe it may be a first step towards being able to personalize treatment to an individual woman’s cancer.
A second opinion may reveal new treatment options
If you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, consider getting a second opinion from a physician who has both extensive experience treating the disease and is up-to-date on the latest available treatment options and appropriate clinical trials. Your doctor should take the time to talk with you in depth and answer all your questions about your diagnosis and what treatment options are appropriate for you.