A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing improved survival in women with advanced ovarian cancer who were given a combination of traditional intravenous (IV) chemotherapy and less commonly used intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy has led the National Cancer Institute to use its clout to make physicians aware of the study results and encourage the use of the treatment regimen in suitable patients. The IP chemotherapy involves bathing the abdominal cavity with chemotherapy drugs via catheter, while the IV therapy distributes the drugs throughout the body by way of the bloodstream. For all of the patients in this study, chemotherapy was preceded by surgical removal of the tumor.
According to the study, led by Dr. Deborah K. Armstrong of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, women who received the combination therapy survived approximately 16 months longer than women treated with IV therapy alone. An unfortunate fact of chemotherapy is that the side effects often reduce the quality of the patient’s life, at least in the short term, and the study notes that women who received the combination therapy did experience more side effects than women who received IV therapy alone. Nonetheless, the increased survival that can be achieved with the combination of IV and IP therapies is a bright spot in what is otherwise a bleak landscape.
Ovarian cancer, while not the most common female cancer, is one of the most deadly. Fewer than half of the women who are diagnosed with this disease survive longer than five years past diagnosis. The reason for this is that ovarian cancer, in its early stages, is a relatively silent disease. By the time a woman notices symptoms, the disease has usually reached an advanced stage or spread to other organs. In addition, there is currently no early diagnostic test for ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated that over 22,000 women would be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2005, and that over 16,000 women would die of the disease.
An article on WebMD lists some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, many of which can be easily mistaken as being due to other, less lethal, causes. While there isn’t any specific preventive measure to be taken against this disease, all women, regardless of age, can best protect their health by getting a thorough gynecological checkup every year, and bringing any unusual changes to the attention of their doctor.