Advanced Options for Ovarian Cancer Treatment


Recent commentaries in the New York Times and Forbes lament the slow adoption by oncologists of a method of administering chemotherapy that’s been shown in several randomized controlled trials to improve survival in women afflicted with ovarian cancer. That method is referred to as intraperitoneal chemotherapy, which is the direct administration of chemotherapy into the abdomen. Ovarian cancer tends to metastasize to the surfaces of organs in the abdominal cavity. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy delivers higher levels of chemotherapy to the surfaces of these organs than can be achieved by the intravenous route.

If you read those commentaries, perhaps you wondered about what it all meant, and then, were curious about our treatments here at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Here’s what you need to know:

Several years ago, the Gynecologic Oncology Group conducted three large clinical trials, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), that showed a significant survival advantage for patients treated with intraperitoneal chemotherapy compared to similar chemotherapy agents given intravenously. Based on these impressive results, in 2006 the NCI took the unusual step of issuing a “Clinical Alert” encouraging oncologist to offer intraperitoneal chemotherapy to patients with advanced ovarian cancer.

Long-lasting survival

Recently published studies in the Journal of Clinical Oncology have refocused attention on intraperitoneal chemotherapy for patients with advanced ovarian cancer. There’s evidence that the survival effect is long lasting; one study found that among women followed for 10 years, the risk of death was 23 percent less in those who had intraperitoneal chemotherapy versus traditional intravenous chemotherapy. A second study – and the impetus for the New York Times and Forbes commentaries – showed that as many as 50 percent of ovarian cancer patients who could benefit from intraperitoneal therapy are not getting the help they need receiving it. The administration of intraperitoneal chemotherapy is more complex and many oncologists are not experienced with it.

At UTSW, the standard of care

The gynecologic oncologists at UT Southwestern are experienced with intraperitoneal chemotherapy; indeed, several were investigators in the clinical trials noted above. At UT Southwestern, intraperitoneal chemotherapy is the standard of care for appropriate patients with advanced ovarian cancer.

It’s another reason why where you first seek cancer care is important.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in women. According to the American Cancer Society, about 20,000 women are diagnosed every year. In most cases, early symptoms are subtle, and the disease has progressed before the woman is even aware that she needs to see a doctor.

Only 15 percent of cases are diagnosed at a local stage, for which 5-year survival is 92 percent. Regrettably, the vast majority of cases are diagnosed at a distant stage, which has a 5-year sur­vival rate of 27 percent.

Research is underway to develop better methods of early detection for ovarian cancer, and we’re following that work closely. Currently, our clinical focus is on treating the cancer as effectively as possible once it has been diagnosed. If you’re facing ovarian cancer, be sure you’re offered all the available options at the cancer center you choose.

You can count on that level of care – and the expertise to deliver it – at UT Southwestern.