Researchers discover breakthrough in ovarian cancer

Researchers at The University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix have discovered that many women with low-grade serous carcinoma of the ovary or peritoneum have seen their tumors stabilize or shrink after taking a regular dose of the compound selumetinib.

The findings, published in the Feb. 14 edition of The Lancet Oncology, show that selumetinib targets a mutation in the MAPK pathway for patients with low-grade serous carcinoma, allowing for treatment on previously chemoresistant tumors.

“This is a potentially important breakthrough for the Gynecologic Oncology Group,” said John Farley, MD, a gynecologic oncologist in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Creighton University School of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, a Dignity Health Member.

The Gynecologic Oncology Group is a non-profit international organization with the purpose of promoting excellence in the quality and integrity of clinical and basic scientific research in the field of gynecologic malignancies.

Dr. Farley is part of the University of Arizona Cancer Center at St. Joseph’s and is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology with a subspecialty certification in gynecologic oncology. He is a retired decorated Army colonel who completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He is the first author on this study.

This study was initially developed in 2007, with 52 patients enrolled for the Phase II clinical trial between December 2007 and November 2009. Patients were given 50 milligrams of selumetinib orally twice daily. Of those participants, eight had a measurable decrease in tumor size, seven had partial responses and 34 patients saw their tumors stabilize. The findings suggest that inhibitors of the MAPK pathway warrant further investigation in patients with low-grade ovarian cancer.

Biggest ovarian cancer breakthrough in 15 years
Women with ovarian cancer have been given new hope after doctors got the go-ahead to treat them with a drug that stops tumour growth.

Women with ovarian cancer have been given new hope after doctors got the go-ahead to treat them with a drug that stops tumour growth.

Bevacizumab, also known as Avastin, is the first medicine in 15 years that has been shown to improve the outcome for those suffering the disease, experts revealed.

Campaigners welcomed news the drug was given approval for use in Britain by European medical chiefs.

Louise Bayne, chief executive of the charity Ovacome, said: “We are delighted. This heralds a new era of hope for women with ovarian cancer who have previously been faced with a devastating diagnosis plus a lack of innovative treatments.”

The drug has been licensed for use against bowel, breast, lung and kidney cancer but scientists found it halted ovarian growths.

In women with advanced tumours who were given Avastin and chemotherapy, their illness did not deteriorate for 18.2 months compared to 12 months for those who just had chemo. The drug works by stopping the tumours forming blood vessels.

Consultant oncologist Dr Timothy Perren, from St James’ Hospital, Leeds, said: “Ovarian cancer has the worst outcomes of all ­gynaecological cancers and halting disease progression for six months is a major step forward in treating it.”

But Ovarian Cancer Action boss Gilda Witte said more work needed to be done to diagnose the disease earlier and save more lives.


“There just aren’t very good treatments for low-grade ovarian cancer, so this discovery opens up a lot of new exciting possibilities for us,” Dr. Farley said. He added that Phase III of this trial is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks, with that trial to be the “definitive test” before the treatment becomes available to the general population.


This study is registered with, number NCT00551070.

About The University of Arizona Cancer Center
The University of Arizona Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center headquartered in Arizona. The UACC is supported by NCI Cancer Center Support Grant number CA023074. With primary locations at the University of Arizona in Tucson and at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, the Cancer Center has more than a dozen research and education offices in Phoenix and throughout the state and 300 physician and scientist members work together to prevent and cure cancer. For more information, go to

Ovarian Cancer Breakthrough
Ovarian tumors can be deadly - especially if gone undetected like so many are. A new study, published in the September 20 issue of PLoS Biology, may shed light on how these deadly tumors develop and spread.

Stanford researchers, including Patrick O. Brown, senior author of the study and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, were specifically looking for evidence that an ovarian tumor had rearranged its DNA so that two distinct genes were now fused together.

Identifying a gene fusion in ovarian cancer may provide a new opportunity to catch ovarian cancers early in their development, and possibly find new treatments.

The study discovered that a gene, ESRRA, which is closely related to the estrogen receptor, is broken and fused to an adjacent gene called C11orf20. The fusion occurred in about 15 percent of serous ovarian cancer cases tested.

A particularly lethal cancer, serous ovarian cancer is the most common form of ovarian cancer. It is usually only detected at a late stage in its progression, after the cancer has spread to other tissues.

The fact that ovarian tumors in many patients share the same genetic change suggests that it may be important for the way they behave. The discovery might provide a marker for detection of some cancers at a curable stage.

About St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center
Located in the heart of Phoenix, Ariz., St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center is a 607-bed, not-for-profit hospital that provides a wide range of health, social and support services with special advocacy for the poor and underserved. St. Joseph’s is a nationally recognized center for quality tertiary care, medical education and research. It includes the internationally renowned Barrow Neurological Institute, the Heart & Lung Institute, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, and a Level I Trauma Center verified by the American College of Surgeons. U.S. News & World Report routinely ranks St. Joseph’s among the best hospitals in the United States for neurology and neurosurgery.


Lynne Reaves
St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center

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