In the U.S., ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
- An estimated 21,750 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020, with 13,940 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- While all women are at risk of ovarian cancer, the overall lifetime risk of developing the disease is 1 in 78.
- The estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose ovarian cancer is detected early is about 92%. However, only 15% of women are diagnosed at the early stages.
- Ovarian cancer can be difficult to diagnose because initial symptoms are similar to gastrointestinal illness and indigestion such as back pain, bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, or urinary urgency or frequency in the months before diagnosis. Women who experience such symptoms daily for more than a few weeks should seek prompt medical evaluation.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020 and the Society’s website
Ovarian Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack ovarian cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
Dr. Susan Horwitz’s work has been instrumental in the development of Taxol®, a natural product used to treat over 1.5 million cancer patients with ovarian, breast, lung and pancreatic cancer. Dr. Horwitz is collaborating with organic chemist Dr. Amos B. Smith III to develop similar natural product drugs to overcome resistance to Taxol that patients experience. They have synthesized analogues of discodermolide, a natural product from a Caribbean Sea sponge that works similar to Taxol. In ovarian cancer models, the leading compounds show promising results in their ability to kill ovarian cancer cells with reduced toxicity. Further research continues towards developing the lead candidate as a new treatment for ovarian cancer patients.
Dr. Wei Zhang is a leader of precision oncology, using NFCR support since 2006 to characterize underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for cancer growth and progression – the drivers of cancer. His research addresses the variability in cellular properties, within and across cancer types, which often leads to treatment resistance and poor survival in patients. Dr. Zhang conducts important research studies to advance Precision Oncology with the ultimate goal of maximizing outcomes for patients with ovarian cancer and other malignancies.
Dr. Robert Bast, who received NFCR funding for 18 years, is best known for developing the OC125 (CA125) monoclonal antibody in 1981 that led to the production of the CA125 radioimmunoassay – the first useful biomarker for monitoring the course of patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Since 20% of ovarian cancers do not make the CA125 protein, Dr. Bast and his team have been evaluating other biomarkers to complement CA125 as an early detection blood test. A panel of biomarkers would detect all of the cases early and reduce the poor outcome that most patients experience due to diagnosis after the cancer has spread. Other ways for early detection include Dr. Bast’s “two-step” approach using CA125 and sonography– which results from clinical trials show it effectively reduces fatalities by 20%.
Dr. Harold F. Dvorak, who received NFCR funding for over 30 years, discovered that tumor cells secrete a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and this seminal discovery provided the molecular basis for the field of angiogenesis (meaning “blood vessel formation”). Angiogenesis makes it possible for tumors to grow and spread, and Dr. Dvorak’s discovery helped pave the way for research on anti-angiogenesis treatments that can halt and even reverse tumor growth. In 2004, the first VEGF-targeting anti-angiogenic drug Avastin® was approved by the FDA for the treatment of colorectal cancer, and later, for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma (GBM) and certain types of cervical and ovarian cancers. Specifically, Avastin is approved for stage III and IV epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy after surgery.