Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women. It's estimated that 22,240 women in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with the disease in 2013, and 14,030 will die of it.
Although there have been slight improvements in progression-free survival after surgery and chemotherapy, survival rates remain poor for women with advanced ovarian cancer. Lack of progress in the treatment of ovarian cancer has been linked to two main problems:
- Ovarian cancer is usually detected later than most other types of solid tumors. More than 75 percent of ovarian cancer patients receive their diagnosis when the disease is advanced (FIGO III or IV, based on a system developed by a global organization of obstetricians and gynecologists). Women whose disease has spread to other parts of the body have a five-year survival rate of only 20-25 percent. In contrast, women whose disease is caught early, at stage I, have five-year survival rates of more than 90 percent.
- In the beginning, most patients with advanced disease will respond to certain types of chemotherapy (platinum- and paclitaxel-based), but eventually the disease tends to become resistant to chemotherapy, returning in about 85 percent of those women. Tumors usually reappear within two years of surgery and chemotherapy. Once that happens, a cure is very unlikely.
To reduce the prevalence of ovarian cancer and increase survival rates, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) Ovarian Cancer SPORE is focused on:
- New ways to harness the patient's own immune system to increase the effectiveness of treatments given after the patient is newly diagnosed or after the disease has returned;
- New ways to minimize the risk that the disease will return after initial treatment, through more effective use of cancer vaccines and strategies to improve immune response; and
- Identification of immune-system pathways that predict how patients will probably respond to different therapies, making it possible to better match patients to treatments that will work best for them.
The RPCI-UPCI Ovarian Cancer SPORE exists to improve the prevention and treatment of ovarian cancer through individual translational research projects, supportive cores, developmental research programs, and career development programs.