(WECT) - About 25,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States each year.
Because there is not a good screening test available and the cancer is often caught too late, overall survival is about 25 percent. But, there is a new discovery that could improve those odds.
Dr. Kunle Odunsi is testing a vaccine that targets and destroys a specific protein usually found in adult male tests, but is also found on ovarian cancer cells.
"We're able to generate very robust immune responses," said Odunsi.
In a study of 22 women, 70 percent had a positive response to the vaccine.
In another study in women who already had several recurrences, the vaccine delayed their next relapse by nearly two years.
"The ultimate goal here is that this will translate into prevention of relapse altogether and therefore prolongation of overall survival," said Odunsi.
In the study, women were given the vaccine through an injection once a month for seven months. Odunsi said he has seen no side effects in any women who have received the vaccine other than a little redness at the injection site.
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BACKGROUND: Ovarian cancer took the lives of 15,520 women in 2008, according to the National Cancer Institute. The most common type of this cancer is ovarian epithelial cancer, which begins in the tissue that covers the ovaries.
SYMPTOMS: As in all cancers, the sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the better a chance the patient has at recovery. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is hard to detect early and often caught in the late stages of the disease. The National Cancer Institute says to watch out for the following symptoms:
- Heavy feeling in the pelvis
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Abnormal periods
- Unexplained back pain that worsens
- Nausea, vomiting, gas or loss of appetite
Recognizing those symptoms and seeking treatment could mean the difference between life or death. "There are no good screening strategies right now for ovarian cancer," Kunle Odunsi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of gynecologic oncology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., told Ivanhoe. "Unlike breast cancer, where you have a mammogram, colon cancer, where you have colonoscopy, prostate [cancer], where you have PSA, or cervical cancer, where you have PAP smears, for ovarian, there are no tests available to detect the disease at an early stage."
VACCINATION AS TREATMENT: Traditional treatment options for ovarian cancer include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy is often used in the treatment of ovarian cancer and involves delivering drugs through a catheter directly into the abdomen. Researchers are looking into new drugs to treat ovarian cancer including a vaccine that helps the body recognize cancer as foreign and go on the attack against it.
Researchers hope this therapy will prevent the recurrence of cancer better than chemotherapy since the body is the attacker rather than a drug. They also hope treatments like this vaccine can improve the survival rate of ovarian cancer patients, which is estimated to be around 20 to 25 percent after 5 years. "There has been no significant improvement of those numbers over the past 30 years, and we're hoping that some of these strategies will lead our patients to live longer with a good quality of life without many of the side effects of prolonged chemotherapy," Dr. Odunsi, lead author of the vaccine study, said.