Treatment for ovarian cancer has come a long way, as researchers discover more about the development and behavioral processes of the disease, and identify more opportunities for prevention and therapies.
Though there is still further to go, scientific momentum has ushered in an unprecedented wave of new therapies in recent years. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved more ovarian cancer therapies since 2014 than in the prior 60 years combined.
Still, ovarian cancer’s distinct variations mean that treatments are not one-size-fits-all. From high-grade serous ovarian cancer — the most common subtype — to rare cases, researchers are studying each form of the disease and are striving to bring more precise and effective treatments to direct patient care.
Your gynecologic oncologist will talk you through your treatment plan, and explain what makes it the most effective therapy for your individual diagnosis. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, bring up concerns or avenues you would like to explore, and make sure you are being heard. Do also remember that your medical team know your situation best, and will work to put you on the best course of treatment available.
Targeted therapies, sometimes called targeted agents, attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells largely untouched.
PARP inhibitors are one type of targeted therapy that have seen great success in recent years, primarily for epithelial ovarian cancers. These drugs work by blocking a protein that repairs cancer cells, cutting off the cancer cells’ ability to repair and replicate. Olaparib, niraparib and rucaparib have all been approved for use with epithelial ovarian cancer.
Angiogenesis inhibitors have also proven effective against some epithelial ovarian cancers, working by cutting off the blood supply to tumors. Bevacizumab is an angiogenesis inhibitor that is approved for treatment.
Though immunotherapy for ovarian cancer has yet to prove as effective as hoped, the field still holds promise. Researchers, including many OCRA grantees, are determined to understand why ovarian cancer evades immune response, and are actively testing new immunotherapies.
Monoclonal antibodies are immunotherapy strategies that are currently being evaluated. Monoclonal antibodies are derived from cloned molecules. Some monoclonal antibodies, such as bevacizumab, are considered targeted therapy as well as immunotherapy. Other monoclonal antibodies are called checkpoint inhibitors, and work by telling the immune system to continue fighting certain cells when immune “checkpoints” would typically shut down immune response. Pembrolizumab, which is approved for treating some epithelial ovarian cancers, is a checkpoint inhibitor.
Chemotherapy remains standard first-line treatment for the vast majority of ovarian cancer cases. However, recent years have brought a paradigm shift for when chemotherapy regimen begins. In the past, nearly all patients underwent initial debulking surgery prior to chemotherapy. Today, some epithelial ovarian cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy prior to surgery, which is referred to as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
New treatments through clinical trials
If you are interested in receiving up-and-coming treatments, a clinical trial may be right for you. Clinical trials help accelerate breakthroughs while giving participants the opportunity to receive new and promising treatments that are not yet publicly available. Participants in clinical trials never receive just a placebo — all receive either standard of care, or the therapy being tested.
You can use OCRA’s Clinical Trial Finder to search available clinical trials online, or to speak to a clinical trial navigator over the phone.
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