Quick study: Ovarian cancer therapy doesn't prolong life




The question: Can using the drug oregovomab following chemotherapy increase survival time for patients with advanced-stage ovarian cancer?

The disease: Each year, more than 20,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed nationwide. Most patients are treated with a combination of chemotherapy and a taxane, a type of drug that blocks the growth of cancer cells. Following remission, some undergo so-called maintenance therapy - a continuation of low-dose chemotherapy - to try to keep the disease at bay; however, in 80 percent of these cases, the disease will re-occur. 'Those of us who treat women with ovarian cancer desperately need something better than what we have,' said Jonathan Berek, MD, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology.

The medication: Oregovomab is a monoclonal antibody that identifies and attacks tumor cells displaying CA-125, a glycoprotein found on most ovarian cancer cells. Early studies suggested that when used as maintenance therapy (as an alternative to low-dose chemotherapy), it had the potential to extend the time that a woman with advanced ovarian cancer would have without relapse.

The study: The randomized, double-blind study involved 367 patients with advanced ovarian cancer at more than 60 U.S. centers, including Stanford. The women all had previously undergone chemotherapy. The majority of participants were assigned to oregovomab, while the remainder received a placebo. The results appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The findings: Though the medication produced a strong immune response and was well-tolerated by patients, there were no differences in survival between those women who received oregovomab and those given placebo. There was also no statistical difference in the median time to relapse for the women in the two groups.

What's next: Since the medication produced a strong biologic and immune response in patients, it may still have a use in cancer treatment. Berek said that new studies are investigating whether monoclonal antibodies are useful when combined with standard chemotherapy as first-line treatment.

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