A New Treatment Regimen for Ovarian Cancer

Women with ovarian cancer often have a poor prognosis because they aren't diagnosed until the cancer is advanced and difficult to treat. Now, a new treatment regimen prolongs the life of women with certain types of advanced ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian epithelial cancer, which forms in cells that line the ovaries, is rare; it accounts for about four percent of all cancers in women. However, it's the leading cause of gynecological cancer deaths and the fifth most common cause of mortality in women. Physicians diagnosed more than 21,000 women with epithelial ovarian cancer in 2009. Women with a personal or family history of cancer, are 55 or older, have never been pregnant or who received hormone therapy are at increased risk for ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is nicknamed the silent killer for its reputed lack of noticeable symptoms. However, women diagnosed with ovarian cancer reported at least three of the common symptoms as much as six months before diagnosis. Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to other, less serious, conditions so women tend not to seek immediate medical attention when they occur.

Typical ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pressure or fullness
  • Pelvic distention (progressive increase versus intermittent change in size)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Urinary urgency
  • Swelling or bloating
  • Trouble eating

Treatment for ovarian cancer includes surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

New Treatment

The typical chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer is a dose of the drugs Paclitaxel and Carboplatin administered once every 21 days.

Researchers found that administering higher doses of both chemotherapy medications improves median progression-free survival (PFS) rates in women with advanced ovarian cancer. PSF, a common measure of treatment effectiveness, measures how long a patient's disease stays stable, or does not get worse, following a treatment. Half the women's PSF rates fall above the median, and half fall below.

Instead of one dose every three weeks, the new treatment dispenses Paclitaxel on days one, eight and 15, and Carboplatin on day one for six cycles. Women who received this new treatment had a PFS of 28 months versus 17.2 months.

This new combination is so significant the National Comprehensive Cancer Network incorporated it into published guidelines for its preferred treatment of epithelial ovarian cancer.

Unlike breast cancer or colon cancer, there is currently no screening tool for ovarian cancer and only 20 percent are caught early. If you experience symptoms, see your physician to rule out ovarian cancer.