Ovarian cancer affects 2,500 Canadian women a year and it’s often lethal, killing 1,700. Barbara Vanderhyden, the Corinne Boyer Chair in Ovarian Cancer Research at the University of Ottawa, and a senior scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, says the symptoms are subtle, so women often don’t go to see their doctor until the cancer has spread.
And the symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic those of other illnesses: abdominal discomfort, fatigue, feeling of fullness, backache, weight loss, gas, bloating and pain during intercourse. There are currently no screening methods to detect ovarian cancer early. Recurrence rates are high.
Ovarian cancer is detected through rectovaginal examination, ultrasound and a blood test. It’s usually treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. A recent advance is to deliver the chemo intraperitoneally (IP; into the abdomen) rather than intravenously (into the vein).
‘IP chemo has greater toxicity, and therefore more side effects, but it provides a slightly longer period of survival,’ says Vanderhyden. The treatment is available in many hospitals in Canada. According to a recent study, while average survival on traditional chemo is about four years, it is five and a half years with IP chemotherapy.
Three types of experimental treatments for ovarian cancer are promising. Targeted therapeutics, such as the PARP-1 inhibitors used in breast cancer, are in clinical trials. Oncolytic viruses’highly evolved viruses that attack only cancer cells’are being tested. And researchers are at work on immunotherapy, manipulating the immune system so it can overpower cancer cells.
Here’s more reason for hope: In Canada, the number of scientists working in this field is quadruple that of 10 years ago. Find more information at Ovarian Cancer Canada.
Read more about the new discoveries, treatments, current studies and diagnostic tools for other deadly cancers:
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