Good news for women with ovarian cancer , which affects 7,500 British women each year, as fresh drug combination promises to hold back the disease for FIVE YEARS
- Ovarian cancer has few early symptoms which means diagnosis is often late
- Around 4,000 women die from ovarian cancer in Britain each year
There’s good news for women living with incurable ovarian cancer, thanks to a fresh drug combination that can hold back the disease for up to five years, according to a new study.
Around 7,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK. As it causes few symptoms in early stages, it’s picked up at a late stage in the majority of cases.
At this point, treatment is unlikely to cure the disease, so doctors look for ways to slow down its growth, buying patients vital time with loved ones. Around 4,000 women die from ovarian cancer in Britain each year. There have been advances in recent years for the one in ten women with a form of the disease linked to a faulty BRCA gene – dubbed ‘the Jolie gene’, as Hollywood star Angelina Jolie discovered she carried it.
As BRCA gene mutations also cause breast cancer, the actress had a preventative mastectomy in 2013 and had her ovaries removed in 2015.
However, for those with non-BRCA ovarian cancer – such as Misery actress Kathy Bates, who beat the disease after being diagnosed in 2003 – there has been less optimism.
Around 7,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK. As it causes few symptoms in early stages, it’s picked up at a late stage in the majority of cases
Around 4,000 women die from ovarian cancer in Britain each year
Current NHS treatment for those without the BRCA mutation typically involves surgery, chemotherapy and an immunotherapy drug called bevacizumab. But in this new study, which involved 1,100 patients, a third of participants received chemotherapy and bevacizumab followed by two other drugs: durvalumab and olaparib.
Patients with HRD-positive cancer cells – which struggle to repair themselves – who took the new drug combination did not see their cancer progress for more than three years. Those on the standard treatment saw their cancer progress after two years.
Patients who were HRD negative also benefited. Their cancer was held back for around two years, compared to a year-and-a-half for those on the standard treatment. ‘Women are often disappointed when they don’t have the BRCA mutation as they know it may limit their options,’ says Professor Merry Jennifer Markham, oncologist at the University of Florida. ‘To have new treatments to offer them is very meaningful.’
There was also an advance for patients with low-grade serous ovarian cancer (LGSC), which is more often seen in younger women.
A study, led by researchers from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is testing the medication avutometinib alone and in combination with defactinib in 29 patients with LGSC. Up to 14 per cent of women with this form of cancer currently respond to treatment but preliminary trial results suggest 26 per cent benefit from the new combination.
Patients with cervical cancer, which is diagnosed in 3,200 women in the UK every year, may now be offered less invasive surgery, too.
A radical hysterectomy, involving the removal of the cervix, uterus, upper vagina and other tissue, reduces the risk of the disease returning, yet it has side effects, such as bladder problems and pain during sex.
But a Canadian study, involving 700 women with low-risk, early-stage cervical cancer, has found that removing only the cervix and the uterus reduces the risk of these side effects and does not increase the likelihood of the cancer returning.
The results were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting. ‘This is a big deal for those with cervical cancer,’ says Dr Kathleen Moore, a gynaecologic oncologist at the University of Oklahoma.