Ovarian cancer cells can be extremely tricky to get rid of, which makes treatment often expensive and prolonged. Researchers at the University of California San Diego recently received a 5.8-million-dollar grant from the state to develop a new form of immunotherapy for ovarian cancer.
The researchers from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine have been developing a treatment that uses patient’s own cells to target cancerous stem cells. This has many implications for multiple types of cancer, including ovarian cancer. Cancer stem cells are different from other cancer cells and are often the least responsive to different types of treatment. These researchers have recently discovered a protein coating the outside of cancer stem cells called a receptor tyrosine kinase-like orphan receptor (ROR1). This protein relays messages to the cell and is part of the reason that stem cells are so unresponsive to treatment.
This new type of immunotherapy is being called CAR T-Cell therapy. T cells often are the bodies way of targeting specific bacterial cells, and are crucial in getting rid of many different types of diseases. Unfortunately, these T cells often are ineffective in fighting cancer cells, due to the fact that T cells are unable to recognize the coating of the cancer cells (ROR1). Researchers want to take a patient’s T cells and reprogram them to be able to target ROR1, which would greatly increase the chance of the T cells eliminating cancer stem cells. These cells would remain in the body for a long time and would prevent cancer recurrence (getting the cancer back after remission).
This study could be instrumental in uncovering a cure and treatment in many types of hard to treat cancers. Although the treatment is a few years out from being available for use, it could end up changing a lot of lives.
Coping with Ovarian Cancer
For those who are or know a loved one currently battling ovarian cancer, reading about a potential treatment might not be the most applicable to you. That is why we want to take a moment to discuss things you can do to help you or your loved ones cope with the debilitation and psychological stress that comes with an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Understanding Your Treatment Options
Thankfully, ovarian cancer is not a death sentence and there are multiple treatment options available. While you will certainly discuss this in length with your doctor, it might help to know a little more about the pros and cons of some of the most common treatment options going into the meeting.
A common procedure for ovarian cancer patients, surgery often entails removing all visible signs of cancer in a process called debulking. This could mean taking out an ovary, fallopian tube, layer of fat on the abdomen, etc. Whether you are eligible for surgery depends on a number of factors including pre-existing conditions, nutritional status, etc. Like any other surgeries there could be complications and they likely will be expensive, but many cancer centers will perform them at a lower cost or provide more reasonable repayment options.
- Gets rid of most of the cancer cells and prevents it from spreading to other parts of the body
- Prevents recurrence (the chance of the cancer coming back)
- There is a risk for some complications and other side effects due to the surgery
- Can only be performed by trained surgeons
- Is often very expensive
- Recovery periods may be quite long
Another option is to undergo a chemotherapy treatment, something that is often done for other cancers. Typically doctors will combine a platinum-based drug (carboplatin, cisplatin) with a taxane (paclitaxel, docetaxel). Sometimes the drugs are given intravenously (through an IV) or directly into the abdomen cavity (usually through a catheter). These drugs are incredibly strong, so you will have some rest periods were you don’t take them.Often women take up to six cycles of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer (the length of these cycles depends on the patient). This is an important step as these drugs will get rid of cancer cells that can grow and spread the infection across the body.
- Shrinks cancerous tumors
- Slows down cancer growth
- Has a chance of eliminating cancer cells completely
- Much less invasive than surgery
- The drugs can be on the expensive side
- The drugs often have side effects, many of which can be severe. Those undergoing chemotherapy often report nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, etc. Another common side effect is alopecia, or hair falling out
- There can be complications with IVs and catheters when getting the drugs in the bloodstream
This newer type of treatment is similar to the CAR T-cell therapy described above. Targeted therapy uses drugs and other substances to target cancer cells directly. One particular drug that is often used is Bevacizumab (Avastin), an angiogenesis inhibitor. In order for cancers to form and expand, they need new blood vessels to form and nourish the tumors (this is called angiogenesis). Avastin has been shown to slow the growth of cancers and has even caused them to shrink. Another form of targeted therapy are PARP inhibitors. PARP enzymes essentially help cancer cells repair damaged DNA, and preventing them will allow cancer cells to die. Most of these drugs are taken daily in pill form.
- Is the least invasive form of treatment
- Slows cancer growth
- Kills cancer cells directly
- The drugs can be incredibly expensive as they are relatively new treatments
- As with any treatment, there are side effects. Side effects are very similar to those of chemotherapy, but in very rare cases patients on these drugs have developed blood cancers
Radiation therapy involves high-energy rays to damage or kill cancer cells by preventing them from growing and multiplying. Radiation therapy is most useful if the cancer has not already spread to other parts of the body. Most radiation therapy has been abandoned for more effective chemotherapy, although it may still be used if the cancer is very localized or a patient cannot undergo chemotherapy.
- Can target a specific area
- Completely kills cancer cells and prevents recurrence
- Is only effective when cancer has not spread to other parts of the body
- Has both short term and long term side effects. Short term effects could include skin rash or skin sensitivity, while long term effects could include growth of scar tissue or infertility
Each of these treatments has their own benefits and weaknesses, and it will be up to you and your doctor to figure out a treatment plan that is best for you. Thankfully, new treatments are being discovered every year that are less harmful to the patients and more deadly to ovarian cancer. The research that is being done by the University of California San Diego could prove instrumental in developing an affordable and effective CAR T-cell therapy method. In the meantime, make sure you discuss all of your treatment options if you or a loved one find yourselves stricken with this terrible disease. For more information on ovarian cancer and other illnesses, be sure to check out our other articles for the latest studies and breakthroughs.