Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Ovarian Cancer Research is Extending Patients’ Lives

Posted by Sharyn Lewin, MD, FACS, FACOG
Chief of Gynecologic Oncology
Director of the Gynecologic Oncology Program
Patricia Lynch Cancer Center on September 20, 2021
Sharyn Lewin, MD, FACS, FACOG

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect and treat because of the ovaries’ location deep in the body and symptoms that can be similar to other more common abdominal conditions.

At the Patricia Lynch Cancer Center, we are engaging in leading-edge national and international clinical research that is investigating game-changing therapies for ovarian cancer. These clinical trials – some of which we are conducting in collaboration with the prestigious Gynecologic Oncology Group and National Cancer Institute—are evaluating the effectiveness and safety of new medications and treatment protocols. Our gynecologic oncology team and the Holy Name Institute for Clinical Research are also conducting multi-site research with pharmacologic partners and other non-profits in the scientific community.

Our patients benefit greatly from access to new therapies, which are often not available at other cancer centers in the area.

Treatment Often Begins with Surgery

Following a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, the first line of treatment is usually a complete removal of the ovaries and all tumors, called cytoreductive debulking surgery. The extent of surgery depends on the patient’s health and medical history and whether the cancer is localized within the ovaries or has spread to other surrounding tissue and organs of the reproductive system and/or digestive or urologic system.

Traditionally, platinum-based chemotherapy is prescribed, either prior to surgery to reduce the tumor(s) or after to decrease the risk of a recurrence of the cancer.

Genetic Testing and Counseling

Increasingly, we are utilizing sophisticated medicine based on each patient’s genetics. We often advise genetic screening and counseling before developing a treatment plan, especially for patients who may be at risk for a genetic mutation due to their personal cancer history or that of their family.

A diagnostic test called HRD tumor testing, which looks for an important biomarker of advanced ovarian cancer that changes the DNA of tumors, can assist in determining the best treatment plan for a patient. HRD is caused by gene mutations, including those affecting the BRCA gene. Knowing each patient’s unique genetic background enables us to personalize treatment that is more likely to extend the patient’s life and/or improve her quality of life, including enrolling a patient in a clinical trial using a new therapy.

Clinical Trials at Holy Name

Our portfolio of clinical research includes trials for women with all stages of ovarian cancer and in all phases of treatment, both the newly diagnosed and those who have already had surgery and/or chemotherapy. Patients are not given placebos; all of them receive the standard therapy for ovarian cancer. The new medications are given in addition to the standard therapy.

Among Holy Name’s trials are:

  • The SORAYA study for women with advanced, recurrent ovarian cancer, which is assessing a promising new agent called mirvetuximab soravtasine. This agent is an antibody linked to a chemotherapy drug, which is designed to target and kill cancer cells that return during or within six months of platinum-based chemotherapy.
  • The MIRASOL study is also investigating mirvetuximab soravtansine, to target and kill tumor cells that express a protein observed in ovarian cancer.
  • The ARAVIVE study is testing a compound called AVB-S6-500, which contains a protein designed to interfere with the ability of cancer cells to spread from the ovaries into other parts of the body.

Utilizing Other Innovative Therapies

Another treatment we are using to extend the lives of patient with ovarian cancer is called HIPEC, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy. HIPEC is administered directly in the operating room at the same time as surgery. The treatment bathes the patient’s abdomen in heated chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that may remain after surgery. Research shows that HIPEC often achieves better results than traditional chemotherapy. We have many patients who received HIPEC and remain cancer-free years later.

We are also investigating immunotherapy that harnesses the cancer-fighting power of each patient’s immune system and PARP inhibitors that block the growth pathways of cancer cells, especially in women who carry mutations of the BRCA gene.

Consider a Clinical Trial

We know our patients personally and spend time with them going over the best treatment plan for each one. If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, please take the time to talk to us about enrolling in a clinical trial. Clinicaltrials.gov is a resource that can link you to clinical trials taking place all over the world, including here at Holy Name.

When you participate in a clinical trial, you may not only experience an improvement in your own health, but contribute to the body of knowledge about ovarian cancer so that we can continue to save women’s lives. We urge you to consider enrolling in a trial if you meet the medical criteria.

Sharyn N. Lewin, MD, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist, is Chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Holy Name and specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of ovarian, endometrial, uterine, cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers. She is a member of the Gynecologic Oncology Group’s Investigator Council.

For more information or to make an in-person or telemedicine appointment with Dr. Lewin, call the Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at 201-541-5900 or visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org.