Women with ovarian cancer are living longer lives – and have a better quality of life – as a result of advances in treatment and an improved understanding of the disease. For example:
The breakthrough discovery that specific gene mutations – in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes – increase a woman's risk for ovarian and breast cancer has led to important risk-reducing strategies. Women with these mutations can undergo frequent medical evaluations or even surgical removal of their ovaries and fallopian tubes, which reduces their risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 80 percent.
While chemotherapy once had an extremely modest effect on ovarian cancer, today's treatments are much more effective at shrinking tumors and driving the disease into remission, for all stages of the disease.
Recent studies have shown that ovarian cancer is not one disease, but a spectrum of related diseases with unique genetic characteristics which may influence response to treatment. With these discoveries there is new potential to develop personalized treatment regimens that are more effective and result in fewer side effects.
When detected early, ovarian cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer – five-year survival rates are as high as 94 percent for early-stage disease. But the absence of effective screening tools means that most women are diagnosed at a late stage, when cures are rare and long-term survival rates are low. Most ovarian cancers respond well to initial chemotherapy, but the disease frequently recurs, and more effective drugs are urgently needed to prevent and fight these recurrent tumors.
New research offers reason for optimism. Researchers hope that an ongoing effort to map the ovarian cancer genome will provide new molecular targets that can be translated into more potent drug therapies for the disease, and may also lead to effective ways to prevent and screen for early-stage disease.