Advances in Ovarian Cancer Treatment
The best treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the type of ovarian cancer you have. It also depends on the stage of your cancer. The stage tells how advanced your cancer is. One common treatment option for ovarian cancer has been chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy can also destroy normal cells along with cancer cells, leading to more side effects that can limit treatment.
Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment. It targets only cancer cells. That may mean less damage to normal cells and less serious side effects. Advances in ovarian cancer treatment include two new types of targeted therapy for advanced ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer cells may die if they don't have something called PARP proteins. PARP proteins help the cells repair damaged DNA. Drugs that block this repair process are PARP inhibitors. Without PARP proteins, the cancer cells die and tumor growth slows down.
Some women with ovarian cancer have abnormalities—or mutations—in genes that normally repair DNA. One example is a BRCA gene mutation. If you have BRCA mutations, a PARP drug can make it very hard for cancer cells to keep repairing and growing. Your doctor can look for BRCA mutations with a blood test. A PARP drug could be an option for you if you have had chemotherapy, but still have cancer or the cancer has come back.
PARP drugs are oral drugs. Side effects can include:
- Development of blood cancer, though this is rare
- Fatigue, stomach pain, or muscle aches
- Low red blood cell count (anemia)
- Nausea and vomiting
Zejula is a newer PARP inhibitor that may work for women who do not have BRCA mutations. More PARP inhibitor drugs are being tested in clinical trials. Doctors hope these drugs can keep ovarian cancer from coming back after chemotherapy.
Anti-angiogenesis inhibitors are targeted therapy drugs that block a protein cancer cells use to make new blood vessels. Cancer cells grow quickly so they need a constant blood supply. But, if a protein called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) is blocked, cancer cells do not get enough blood. They starve. This targeted therapy can slow down ovarian cancer. It can help it respond better to other treatments. It also may it less likely that the cancer will come back after treatment.
Avastin is an antibody that works by binding to VEGF and preventing the protein from being active. Avastin is an oral drug. You take it along with chemotherapy. Your doctor may start this treatment if you have advanced ovarian cancer that has come back after chemotherapy treatment. Studies show combining Avastin and chemotherapy shrinks tumors and stops tumor growth for a longer time than chemotherapy alone. Side effects include increased risk of infection, nerve damage, high blood pressure, and developing a hole in the bowel, though this is rare.
Cancer doctors are testing new targeted therapies for ovarian cancer in clinical trials. Ask your doctor if you could benefit from taking part in a trial. Remember all cancer treatments have risks and benefits. Make sure to weigh the risks and benefits with your doctor.