Conventional chemotherapy could further extend life in some women with ovarian cancer when used in tandem with a new type of targeted treatment, a new international study shows.
The research, published in the October issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research, provides important evidence that PARP inhibitor drugs and chemotherapy can both be effective in the same patients, helping women live longer than they would if treated with chemotherapy alone.
The study, in women with mutations to BRCA genes - which increase the risk that ovarian cancer will relapse after treatment, as well as being linked to breast and other cancers - showed that ovarian cancers that have become resistant to PARP inhibitors often remain sensitive to conventional chemotherapy.
The study was led by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and looked at follow-up data from patients who had previously taken part in clinical trials sponsored by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The research was supported by grants from the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and a range of institutions including Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust.
The researchers monitored 89 patients with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer at The Royal Marsden and other hospitals in the UK, Australia, Belgium, Israel and North America, all of whom received chemotherapy following the development of resistance to a PARP inhibitor called olaparib.
Almost half (49 per cent) of olaparib-resistant patients showed a significant decrease in the size of their tumours when subsequently treated with platinum-based chemotherapy, a frequently-used treatment in ovarian cancer. The results show that a significant proportion of women with ovarian cancer could live longer if they received both treatments.
PARP inhibitors have the advantage of causing fewer and less toxic side-effects than traditional chemotherapy. They are being developed in clinical trials worldwide as a potential 'personalised' treatment for women with BRCA gene mutations, although some have also shown some benefit in patients with non-BRCA tumours.