Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Research, new treatments offer hope for ovarian cancer patients

“Specialists have improved survival to over five years for advanced ovarian cancer,” Dr. Rob Wenham says.

“Specialists have improved survival to over five years for advanced ovarian cancer,” Dr. Rob Wenham says.

In about a month, the streets of downtown St. Petersburg will be bathed in blue — a blue-green shade of teal, actually — as hundreds of walkers, runners and supporters converge at Albert Whitted Park for the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation's One Step Closer to the Cure Run/Walk.

Teal is the official color of ovarian cancer awareness. Organizers hope to raise $75,000 to help fund a financial assistance program for local patients in need.

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect early, difficult to treat and difficult to survive. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 21,000 women are diagnosed annually; more than 14,000 die from the disease.

Most women are diagnosed late, after the disease has spread to surrounding tissue and organs. Still, with appropriate treatment, almost half of patients survive five years after diagnosis. Ongoing research gives patients and doctors hope for even better outcomes.

Among those who are encouraged is Dr. Rob Wenham, director of research for gynecologic oncology and interim chairman of the gynecologic oncology department at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

He gets frustrated when patients, especially older ones, come in for a second opinion only as a last resort, having been told there is nothing that can be done for them.

"That's simply not true," Wenham said, noting that a study published this year found that less than half of women over age 65 receive the chemotherapy and surgery needed following diagnosis, thinking treatment is futile.

"One of my patients was diagnosed and told to just go home and wait to die, primarily because of her age over 65," he said. "She came to see us at the insistence of family members but not expecting much, got into treatment and two and a half years later she's still alive and doing well."

One key to survival is seeing specialists — a gynecologic oncologist and a surgeon specially trained to treat ovarian cancer.

"Specialists have improved survival to over five years for advanced ovarian cancer," Wenham said, "yet only half of women see a specialist. With the right surgery and chemotherapy we can approach 10 years survival. So don't throw your hands up and think nothing can be done."

Other developments in the field:

• Two new drugs have been approved in the last year and a half, the first new therapies in almost nine years. One attacks blood vessels that feed tumors, shutting off their blood supply. Another, one of the newer targeted therapies, attacks specific gene defects that are common in the cells of ovarian cancer patients. Researchers are looking at how this can be combined with chemotherapy to make chemo more effective, improving survival with few side effects.

• Researchers are looking at different ways to deliver chemotherapy. More recently, doctors tried injecting chemo directly into the abdomen, essentially filling the belly with cancer-fighting drugs. But the approach is tough on patients and very toxic, so some doctors are going back to intravenous delivery in smaller doses, given more frequently.

• A diagnostic test that could detect ovarian cancer early still eludes scientists. A new major study involving 200,000 women compared no screening to annual ultrasounds or annual CA125 blood testing (currently used to detect recurrence of the disease). None of the three methods significantly improved survival.

• Determining a woman's risk for ovarian cancer has been challenging, but doctors continue to make progress. They know that women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at increased risk. Recent research has found other genes may be involved, and identifying women who have them may help with prevention.

• Doctors are also learning more about the role of fallopian tubes in ovarian cancer. Not having fallopian tubes reduces ovarian cancer risk by 50 percent or more. If a patient is having her ovaries removed or a hysterectomy, she may want to consider removing her tubes as well. "That's not traditionally practiced right now," Wenham said, "but, if they are not needed, all women, not just those at high risk for ovarian cancer, may want to consider having them removed."

• Immunotherapy — using the patient's immune system to attack cancer — is a newer area of ovarian cancer research which can include using a patient's tumor to make a vaccine, extracting tumor-fighting cells from the tumor to give back to the patient and giving medications that turn the immune system back on. These approaches have worked well in fighting melanoma and lung cancers. Trials testing immunotherapy in ovarian cancer patients are under way now, including at Moffitt.

Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]

If you go

One Step Closer

to the Cure

When: Sept. 17 (check-in is at 6 a.m., with the 5K/10K start at 7:30 and the 1-mile start at 8:45)

Where: Albert Whitted Park, 480 Bayshore Drive SE, St. Petersburg

Registration and full details:

Research, new treatments offer hope for ovarian cancer patients 08/18/16 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2016 2:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Georgia man drowned at SeaWorld Aquatica water park

    Public Safety

    ORLANDO — The water was only about 3 feet deep where Michael Stone, wearing a life vest, drowned in a water park ride at Aquatica this summer after apparently passing out face down, Orange County Sheriff's Office reports show.

  2. Bicyclist killed in hit-and-run crash on I-4 exit ramp in Tampa


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating after a bicyclist was killed in a hit-and-run crash on an Interstate 4 exit ramp early Wednesday.

  3. Cookbook review: ‘Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook' is like a friend who always has a good recipe up her sleeve


    Cherry Bombe is a biannual indie magazine, weekly radio show/podcast and annual conference that celebrates women and food. And this month's release is a cookbook, a compilation of tried-and-true recipes from women who are famous both in the food world and other industries. Think model and cookbook author …

    By Kerry Diamond 
and Claudia Wu Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35
  4. Beautiful Hong Kong is pulsating with life and culture



    “Ah money, money, money!" the cabdriver exclaimed with no small sense of sarcasm in his Cantonese-accented English as he waved in the direction of the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong, a city that revels in its reputation as an international financial capital.

    The Hong Kong skyline, seen here from Victoria Peak, the highest point in the city at 1,800 feet, is a sight to behold.
  5. How to pick the perfect fall six-pack of beer

    Bars & Spirits

    With each fall comes another opportunity to assemble the perfect seasonal six-pack. Of course, this is often a six-pack in name only, as many of the latest seasonal brews come in large- format bottles (with a price tag to match). That just means that you'll need to assemble some friends and family to share with, and who …

     Abita Pecan Harvest Ale: As the name suggests, this toasty amber ale is brewed with roasted Louisiana pecans. The base beer is fairly neutral, allowing the sweet and nutty pecan character to stand front and center. It drinks not unlike a liquid pecan pie — though it’s a bit less sweet, thankfully.