Ovarian Cancer: Hope for the Future

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Each year in the United States, ovarian cancer kills about 15,000 women. The deadliest of all gynecologic cancers, it’s too often diagnosed at an advanced stage because screening tests
are not always reliable and early symptoms are often very subtle.

The symptoms that patients experience may include bloating, also called ascites, the result of increased abdominal fluid, sensations of pelvic or abdominal pressure, and trouble with their bowels and bladder. These signs usually indicate that the cancer has already spread. It is often called the silent disease because most women do not experience symptoms until later stages.

Once diagnosed, women may undergo chemotherapy and surgery to remove tumors. Although ovarian cancer is difficult to treat, researchers are hopeful that new procedures will give women a better chance of survival. With progressive surgical and medical procedures, many patients diagnosed with Stage III or Stage IV ovarian cancer can be put into remission. Encouraging new treatments give women diagnosed with ovarian cancer a fighting chance.

Drug Factories
Some experts are hoping something called drug factories will not only kill ovarian cancer, but also transform the way we think about treating other diseases. Researchers at Rice University are developing an implantable method that can make a measurable difference for women diagnosed with this dreaded disease. The implant is loaded with engineered cells that emit a protein to activate the immune system.

The drug factory, about the size of a pinhead, is placed directly next to the tumor or tumors and tiny “beads” are implanted near those tumors to continuously release controlled amounts of interleukin-2. This natural compound activates white blood cells to help fight cancer.

Although the procedure has been tested only on animals, it eliminated the tumors in 100 percent of animals with ovarian cancer. When the mice were injected a second time with the cells from the same cancerous tumor, they were protected against it. Human clinical trials are set to begin this fall.

Experts predict these drug factories will not only kill ovarian cancer, but also change the way we treat diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, genetic disorders and immune illnesses.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Stephenson Cancer Center announced a new drug undergoing clinical trials will help fight cancers without harmful side effects. Aptly named the OK-1, the drug will initially be given to women with advanced-stage ovarian, endometrial and cervical cancers. However, the group’s ongoing studies indicate the potential for fighting other cancers and even preventing cancer

OK-1 is naturally derived from vitamin A, which the body uses to make retinoic acid. While some cancer-fighting drugs can be toxic, the structure of OK-1 was changed from retinoic acid. Instead, the drug works to kill cancer cells by taking away one of the defense mechanisms the cells use to survive.

Given in capsule form, OK-1 could be a game changer for ovarian cancer patients. The main difference between other cancer-fighting drugs and OK-1 is that in preclinical models, researchers have found OK-1 is effective at shrinking tumors without the toxicity and side effects that can accompany other treatments.

Plasmajet Ultra®
European researchers are also hard at work looking for ovarian cancer treatments. In the U.K., doctors at Bath’s Royal United Hospital have presented the PlasmaJet Ultra for the targeted removal of ovarian cancer. The precise surgical equipment uses ionized argon gas to destroy cells during surgery without harming nearby healthy tissue.
It is hoped the procedure will reduce the amount of time cancer patients will spend being treated in a hospital. Scientists say the PlasmaJet Ultra will help vaporize tumors from tissues more accurately, ultimately helping patients to experience better quality of life.

Clinical Trials
For women with advanced or recurring ovarian cancer, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment option. These regulated research studies can determine whether new cancer treatments are effective or are an improvement over the present plan. A patient’s doctor can recommend clinical trials that may include biologic therapies or treatments that use the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. Trials can also include targeted therapies that attack specific weaknesses in cancer cells.

Early Detection
No one can predict whether a person will develop cancer, and anyone with ovaries is at risk of ovarian cancer. However, some factors, such as a family history, genetic predisposition, use of hormone replacement therapy and aging can put a woman at a higher risk. Many researchers are aiming their resources at identifying high-risk women with a genetic predisposition for this disease.

Through counseling, giving women the option of risk-reducing procedures and continually improving current treatments, thousands of cases of ovarian cancer can be prevented. For women, knowing the symptoms and discussing screenings with their doctors can create an opportunity for prevention.

Sources: news.cancerconnect.com, cancer.org, journalrecord.com and bbc.com.