According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and the disease will take the lives of almost 14,000. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death among women. One reason for the high mortality rate is late diagnosis of the disease, which often isn’t confirmed until after the cancer has spread.
However, thanks to new advances in cutting-edge treatments and specialized care, these statistics are starting to change. In fact, it’s estimated that eight out of 10 women – even those with advanced disease – can extend their life expectancy and potentially achieve remission if treatment is sought early. These advances are due in large part to clinical trials that enable investigators to test new medications and regimens to treat the cancer most effectively.
Treatment options vary depending on the stage at which the cancer is detected. “The most common stage is Stage 3, and for those patients, usually it’s a combination of surgery and chemotherapy,” said Stephen Bush II, MD, gynecologic oncologist at CAMC.
Treatment of ovarian cancer is very different from treatment of many other types of cancer. Both chemotherapy and surgery play bigger roles in tackling the complexities of the disease. “It’s a very unique disease process, and that’s why it’s important to see someone who specializes in its treatment,” Bush said.
“When you look across the country, patients that have the best survival rates for ovarian cancer are treated at centers that are classified as a high volume center and by a high volume surgeon, and at CAMC, we are both of those,” Bush said. With specialized gynecologic oncologists, advanced surgical techniques, state-of-the-art technology and access to the latest clinical trials, CAMC is helping lead the way in ovarian cancer treatment.
“It’s important to have the option to participate in clinical trials for the potential benefit of the patient, to help advance science and to help the patients that come later,” Bush said. “The new drugs that we have available now are only available because of other patients that participated in clinical trials.”
A new clinical trial being conducted at CAMC, in partnership with Marshall University, is expanding the scope of personalized medicine for patients with recurrent ovarian cancer. Instead of treating all patients with ovarian cancer the same, “personalized medicine” focuses on identifying specific markers individual to each patient’s cancer.
For this trial, surgeons take a biopsy of an ovarian tumor. Using cutting-edge technology at Marshall University, they isolate stem cells of the tumor, which can then allow investigators to determine which type of chemotherapy treatment will be most effective in treating the tumor.
“In this trial, we’re using standard chemotherapies that we typically have available, but instead of picking by chance, we can pick which one we think is most likely to work based off the testing and hopefully avoid any unnecessary toxicity with a drug that wouldn’t work otherwise,” Bush said.
“Instead of bombing the patient with poisonous chemotherapy drugs, you can tailor [their treatment] to their specific type of cancer, which is known to be responsive to different antibodies or chemical signaling blockades,” said Augusta Kosowicz, cancer clinical research operations manager at CAMC.
“Cancer is a very complex disease and is always evolving,” Kosowicz said. “We talk to patients about how cancer cells work their way around treatment and become resistant, so the clinical trial process is important to continue to develop drugs and regimens that are smarter than the cancer cells.”
While this trial is ongoing, it’s already providing promising results for patients that are participating. “This new technology is giving people a lot of hope – investigators, treating clinicians and patients,” Kosowicz said. “CAMC has been involved in clinical trials for over 50 years and we have access to national clinical trials right here in our community, which is a huge benefit for patients. Thanks to ongoing and previous clinical trials conducted in the past, cancer patients are able to live longer with improved quality of life.”