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Immunotherapy and Ovarian Cancer

Aug 27, 2017 11:25PM ● By Elena Hutslar

Gigi Chen, MD

In 2017, an estimated 22,440 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and about 14,080 women will die from it. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. The treatment of ovarian cancer often includes a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

It is common for ovarian cancer to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. A woman should be evaluated by a gynecological oncologist for surgery.  After the initial surgery and chemotherapy, a woman is usually observed. The risk of recurrence can still be high; therefore, there is a tremendous need to have more effective treatments.  

There have been recent advances in the area of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to identify and attack cancer cells. They often have fewer side effects.  Bevacizumab is a targeted therapy approved for recurrent ovarian cancer. Poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) are enzymes that are key regulators of cell survival and cell death; therefore, drugs that inhibit PARP can be important drugs to fight ovarian cancer. The PARP inhibitors, Olaparib and Rucaparib, are approved for women with recurrent ovarian cancer with BRCA mutation positivity, having had previous lines of chemotherapy treatment. Niraparib was recently approved for maintenance therapy for women who have platinum sensitive recurrent ovarian cancer after platinum chemotherapy.  Women who are BRCA positive or negative can both benefit from this therapy.

Immunotherapy is also being actively studied in gynecologic cancer.  There have been clinical trials looking at various immunotherapies, including vaccine therapy, immune cellular therapy, and immune checkpoint blockade. Objective response rate reported in these small trials have not been very impressive; however, complete and durable remissions have been observed. Additional efforts are being made to understand molecular and immunological characteristics so we can select patients who are most likely to benefit from this particular treatment strategy.

Join Dr. Chen and other medical experts at the Many Faces of Gynecologic Cancers on September 19, 2017, from 6:30-8:30pm, at the Lafayette Library. For more information or to register for the program, call 925-677-5041 x260.

Gigi Chen, MD is a medical oncologist and hematologist with Diablo Valley Oncology. She sees patients in Pleasant Hill, Rossmoor, and San Ramon. She has expertise in the treatment of all tumor types, with a special interest in treating gynecological malignancies, lung and breast cancer, and hematologic disorders.