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Study Finds New Treatment Option for Advanced Ovarian Cancer Patients (dateline June 1, 2000)

A preliminary study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in May 2000 finds that weekly doses of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (brand name, Taxol) may benefit advanced ovarian cancer patients who have become resistant to standard chemotherapy with a combination of platinum compound (usually cisplatin) and paclitaxel.  Though the results must be confirmed in larger studies, researchers are optimistic, calling treatment with paclitaxel alone a possible new option for ovarian cancer patients who become resistant to initial chemotherapy. 

The study included 41 women with advanced ovarian cancer who had become resistant to treatment with a combination of paclitaxel and the chemotherapy drug, cisplatin (brand name, Platinol).  Each woman was given weekly doses of paclitaxel.  The results of the study showed that tumors were reduced in size in 32% of the patients.   

“These women had very resistant ovarian cancer, more so than patients in most studies,” said Maurie Markman, MD, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center, in a press release.  “Therefore, it was unlikely they would respond to this treatment, which makes these results all the more promising.  These data suggest that women with therapy-resistant ovarian cancer now have a new treatment option,” said Dr. Markman.  

In the study, the majority of the patients only experienced mild side effects, including a lower white cell count (increasing the risk of infection), nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.  “We were impressed with the level of tolerability achieved with this weekly regimen,” said Dr. Markman.  “The majority of patients did not experience significant side effects.”

In addition to treating ovarian cancer, paclitaxel is also used to treat early and late stage breast cancer, certain types of lung cancer, and in some cases, Karposi’s sarcoma (a cancer that begins as soft, brownish, or purple nodules on the feet and spreads through the skin to the lymph nodes and abdominal organs).  Other common side effects of paclitaxel that were not noted in this study include hair loss (alopecia), numbness in the extremities, and muscle or joint pain (myalgia/arthralgia). 

Approximately 25,500 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year, and an estimated 14,500 women die from the disease each year. Often, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are “silent,” making it difficult to diagnose the cancer until it has progressed into advanced stages.

Currently, the five-year survival rate for all stages of ovarian cancer is 50%.  Nearly 80% of ovarian cancer patients respond to initial therapy, but as many as 70% of women will eventually become resistant to ovarian cancer treatment.   

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