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New Treatment Options Lead to Steady Progress Against Ovarian Cancer


Photo by Cancer Type

Although finding effective screening tools remains a pri­ority, new treatment options for women with ovarian cancer, such as the ones outlined in the updated NCCN Guidelines for Ovarian Cancer, are vital to making steady progress against the disease, according to Robert J. Morgan, MD, of City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center and chair of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Ovarian Cancer. Dr. Morgan outlined significant updates to the NCCN Guidelines during a re­cent presentation at the NCCN Annual Conference.

The NCCN Guidelines address epi­thelial ovarian cancer and less common cancers, including malignant germ neoplasms, carcinosarcomas, and sex cordstromal tumors. They also discuss fallopian tube cancer and primary peri­toneal cancer, which are less common cancers that are managed in a similar manner to epithelial ovarian cancer.

“Regardless of the type of cancer, the NCCN Guidelines for Ovarian Cancer reflect the importance of stage and grade of disease on prognosis and treatment recommendations,” said Dr. Morgan.

The NCCN Guidelines continue to recommend that women with borderline epithelial ovarian cancer of low malig­nant potential be primarily surgically managed. In contrast to women with frankly invasive ovarian carcinoma, women with borderline disease tend to be younger and are often diagnosed with stage I disease.

Biomarkers continue to emerge as an area of interest in predicting future patterns of the disease.

“The benefits of postoperative che­motherapy have not been demonstrated for patients who have no microscopi­cally demonstrable invasive implants,” said Dr. Morgan. “Even patients with advanced stage disease at presentation have an excellent prognosis and chemo­therapy should be avoided.”

The NCCN Guidelines recommend surgery limited to a USO (preserving the uterus and contralateral ovary) for women who wish to maintain their fertility, and standard ovarian cancer debulking surgery is recommended for those not concerned about fertility preservation.

On the contrary, in women diagnosed with stage II, III, or IV epithelial ovarian cancer, the NCCN Guidelines recom­mend intraperitoneal chemotherapy for first-line therapy and have been updated to include dose-dense paclitaxel (Taxol®, Bristol-Myers Squibb) as a possible treatment option.

Dr. Morgan noted that in a recent clinical trial, dose-dense weekly pacli­taxel with carboplatin (Paraplatin®, Bristol-Myers Squibb) showed an in­crease in both progression-free survival and overall survival when compared with conventional intraperitoneal chemotherapy of weekly carboplatin/paclitaxel.

“However, the dose-dense regimen is more toxic, and patients discontinued dose-dense paclitaxel therapy more often than those receiving standard therapy,” stated Dr. Morgan. “As with all treat­ment decisions, the patient needs to weigh the potential benefits and risks and discuss them thoroughly with their physician.”

Biomarkers continue to emerge as an area of interest in predicting future pat­terns of the disease. In women with ovarian cancer, Dr. Morgan discussed the value of monitoring CA-125 levels in regards to a recent study comparing early versus delayed treatment of re­lapsed ovarian cancer.

“Often, levels of CA-125 have been shown to rise prior to a clinical or symptomatic relapse in women with ovarian cancer. This trial looked at whether there was a benefit of early treatment on the basis of increased CA-125 concentra­tions compared with delayed treatment on the basis of clinical recurrence,” said Dr. Morgan.

The study, which was published in The Lancet, found that there was no survival benefit to early institution of treatment based on increased CA-125 levels and that the quality of life was superior in women in the late treat­ment arm.

“The results of the trial suggest that the utility of the routine monitoring of CA-125 levels is limited,” said Dr. Mor­gan. “The NCCN Guidelines Panel encourages patients and their physicians to actively discuss the pros and cons of CA-125 monitoring based upon these findings and have updated the NCCN Guidelines to include language support­ing this recommendation.”

Virtually all drugs used in oncology have the potential to cause adverse drug reactions. Recently, hypersensitivity to platinum compounds has been rec­ognized as a potential issue for people being administered these compounds.

“Platinum compounds remain very important in the treatment of ovarian cancer in both the upfront and recur­rence settings, so it was important to design strategies to allow for the safe desensitization of these agents in pa­tients who develop allergies,” said Dr. Morgan.

Standard desensitization regimens include slowly increasing infusion con­centrations over several hours. However, Dr. Morgan noted that these procedures must be done in a specific manner in order to be safely administered and pointed to the recommendations within the updated NCCN Guidelines discuss­ing the management of drug reactions.

In conclusion, Dr. Morgan empha­sized that although steady progress is being made in the treatment of ovarian cancer, further trials are necessary to in­vestigate the role of targeted agents alone and in combination in newly diagnosed and recurrent ovarian cancer. In addition, clinical trial enrollment of women with ovarian cancer must be encouraged.

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The NCCN Guidelines are developed and updated through an evidence-based process with explicit review of the scientific evidence integrated with expert judgment by multidisciplinary panels of expert physicians from NCCN Member Institutions. The NCCN Guidelines for Patients™: Ovarian Cancer is available at

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2011.