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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 00:36 GMT
Ovarian cancer treatment success
Ovarian cancer affects 7,000 women a year in the UK
Ovarian cancer affects 7,000 women a year in the UK
An intensive form of chemotherapy is offering new hope to women desperately ill with ovarian cancer.

A Dutch study - using drugs already used to tackle breast and prostate cancer - showed the treatment was successful in 80% of women whose tumours had returned after initial treatment.

At the moment, chemotherapy helps only half of women whose ovarian cancer has returned.

But it is hoped this new regime, which uses drugs which are already available, could boost survival rates.

The new drug combination was highly effective at keeping women alive for longer, giving real hope to those who would otherwise have had very little

Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign
Ovarian cancer affects nearly 7,000 women each year in the UK. The five year survival rate is just 29%.

Researchers looked at 98 women who had initially been successfully treated with chemotherapy, but whose cancer had returned.

They were separated into three groups depending on how quickly their cancer had come back.

Thirty-eight had relapsed within a year, 32 between four and 12 months, and 28 - the most seriously ill - within four months.

Cancers 'disappeared'

All women were treated with an intensive regime of the drug cisplatin, which was developed by the Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and another drug called etoposide.

Almost 80% of the women responded to therapy and saw their tumours shrink.

And 43% saw all signs of their cancers disappear.

Even amongst the most seriously ill women, 46% responded to therapy, compared to 15% for standard therapies.

The results of this study are very encouraging

Sir Paul Nurse, Imperial Cancer Research Fund
In 20%, the tumours vanished.

In the less severely ill, the over 90% responded to treatment.

Although cisplatin and etoposide are already used in chemotherapy regimes for many cancers, the new treatment used the drugs much more intensively than usual.

Patients usually have several weeks to recover from the toxic side-effects of cisplatin, but in this regime, the drug was given on a weekly basis, along with strong drugs to prevent nausea.

'Highly effective'

Dr Ronald de Wit, of the Rotterdam Cancer Institute, who led the study, said: "We were worried the women would be too ill to cope with the treatment, but in fact, they suffered relatively few side-effects.

"And since these drugs are readily available, there's no reason why women shouldn't start to benefit from them right away."

He added: "We were delighted by the success of the study.

"The new drug combination was highly effective at keeping women alive for longer, giving real hope to those who would otherwise have had very little."

Experts have welcomed the development.

Sir Paul Nurse, director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "We've been waiting for good news on ovarian cancer for some time, so the results of this study are very encouraging."

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), said: "While current chemotherapy regimes are effective for some women with ovarian cancer, many relapse later and overall cure rates are improving only very slowly.

"These old drugs in a new regime will be a useful salvage."

The research is published in the CRC's British Journal of Cancer.

The BBC's Neil Bennett
"Researchers say it gives hope to women"
See also:

15 Nov 01 | Health
Ovarian cancer rates soar
06 Aug 01 | Health
Go-ahead for ovarian cancer drug
11 May 01 | Health
Surgery cuts ovarian cancer risk
24 Feb 99 | Health
Ovary tissue breakthrough
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