Promising discovery in ovarian cancer treatment

April 30, 2009 3:53:14 PM PDT
A new weapon in the fight against ovarian cancer may soon help thousands of women who have run out of options. Every year, about 25,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with this disease. Many of them are already in the advanced stages by the time they get that diagnosis. Because there isn't a good screening test and the cancer is often caught too late, overall survival is about 25 percent.

Now, a new discovery may help to improve those odds in women like Jill Kisker. Three years ago, the mother of two young children l was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer.

"I just thought, my kids are so little," Kisker said. "This just can't be true. How did this happen? How did I get here?"

Determined to beat the odds, she had surgery, six rounds of chemo and joined a study on an experimental vaccine. Kunle Odunsi, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Gynecologic Oncology at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., is testing a vaccine that targets and destroys a specific protein usually found in adult male testes but is also found on ovarian cancer cells.

"We're able to generate very robust immune responses," said Dr. Odunsi .

In a study of 22 women, 70 percent had a positive response to the vaccine. It was given as an injection once a month for seven months. Dr. Odunsi says he hasn't seen any side effects in women who have received the vaccine other than a little redness at the injection site.

"I think it's highly promising," Dr. Odunsi said.

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," Dr. Odunsi said.

Three years later, Jill is still cancer-free, but she knows she's not out of the woods.

"Whatever I have to do to be here, I'll do it, as long as I'm here," she said.

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