New hope for the deadliest female cancer
A breakthrough new treatment for ovarian cancer that aims to stop the disease returning by killing off the cancer's stem cells is undergoing safety trials in Australia.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest female cancer in Australia - more than 1600 women will be diagnosed with the disease this year and it will kill 1000 women.
Only 44 per cent of women who develop the cancer survive for more than five years; by comparison breast cancer has a 90 per cent five-year survival rate.
Ovarian Cancer Australia CEO Jane Hill said a lack of research funding meant treatment for the disease was the same today as it was in the 1970s and involves surgery and gruelling chemotherapy.
Eight in ten women respond to surgery and initial chemotherapy treatment but more than half will suffer a relapse within two years and their cancer will become resistant to drugs.
Recently new drugs called PARP inhibitors have been shown to increase progression-free survival times in some ovarian cancer patients by months to several years but only one is available here.
Now Australian scientists and Australian pharmaceutical company Kazia Therapeutics are working on a new treatment called Cantrixil that is delivered directly into stomach tissue via a portal that is installed surgically.
Icon Cancer Care oncologist Professor Jim Coward who is leading the trial says certain cancer stem cells are not destroyed during initial chemotherapy treatment and after lying dormant for a while they begin to grow again.
"When you relapse you usually relapse with nodules in your tummy," he says.
"Cantrixil could be a compelling treatment for patients with recurrent ovarian cancer because it has shown evidence in the laboratory of being able to target and kill the sub-population of cancer stem cells or tumour-initiating cells that are responsible for cancers originating, metastasising and relapsing,"
Professor Coward says a the first human trial of the treatment began in 2016 and is testing whether the drug is safe and efficacious and it will work out the optimum dose.
He needs another 10-20 more women whose cancer has become resistant to chemotherapy to take part.
Women taking part in the trial so far have reported no major side effects and the treatment is being used in conjunction with standard chemotherapy, early results are expected later this year, he says.
Professor Coward says if the treatment works in ovarian cancer it may then be trialled in other cancers such as colorectal, stomach and pancreatic cancers.
Jane Hill says more funding is needed for research in ovarian cancer to improve survival rates and she will use World Ovarian Cancer Day tomorrow to urge women with the cancer to come forward for be tested for the BRCA gene mutation linked to the cancer.
Twenty per cent of ovarian cancer is inherited and women who have the BRCA gene mutation have a 72 per cent higher risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer.
Actress Angelina Jolie had her breasts and ovaries removed when she discovered she had the gene mutation, women with the gene have a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to their offspring
An Australian Ovarian Cancer Study has more than 2000 bio specimens donated by Australian women and it is trying to find better ways of diagnosing the disease, find out why it becomes resistant to chemotherapy and understand genetic links.
Kristin Young from Melbourne who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 hopes to benefit from the new discoveries that the study has prompted.
"I am so thankful to all the women who have donated specimens to the AOCS. Their generosity means that anew generation of researchers and clinicians have the means to develop new treatments, especially targeted to an individual woman's ovarian cancer type," she said.
The main symptoms of ovarian cancer, which are abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, the need to urinate often or urgently, or feeling full after eating a small amount, women who experience these symptoms for more than a month should see their doctor.
The trial of the new treatment is running in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. Women who wish to take part should visit the website www.australiancancertrials.gov.au or type Cantrixil into a search engine.
Professor Coward says he was very happy to arrange consultations and saw people from all over the country.