Third S. S. Ratnam Memorial Lecture 2007. Ovarian cancer: Is there hope for women?

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Abstract

Ovarian cancer is today the most lethal female cancer with an overall survival of only 49.9%. The currently available screening modalities are disappointing in detecting highly curable early stage ovarian cancer. Natural history of ovarian cancer is unknown; it appears it can develop quickly from normal looking ovaries. Timely referral of women with non-specific symptoms (such as abdominal bloating, pelvic pain) for an ultrasound scan or blood CA125 assessments may help in the early diagnosis. Patients with Stage IA or IB disease with grade 1 tumors have a cure rate of >90%; this is likely to be compromised by laparoscopic surgery. In selected patients fertility preservation with good obstetric outcome is possible. However, the relapse rate in ‘high risk’ early stage ovarian cancers is 40–45%; adjuvant chemotherapy is needed. Only 20–25% of those with stage III and IV disease are cured. Despite a high primary response (70%) majority (70–75%) will relapse and all are likely to succumb. Optimal debulking surgery followed by adjuvant chemotherapy are needed for stages III and IV disease; the outcome is superior if managed by gynecologic oncologists. Where cost of drugs is an important consideration, an alternative is carboplatin (an affordable and equally effective drug). The role of vaccines needs further study. When relapses occur palliation will be the aim in most instances. Oral contraceptives, breast feeding, tubal sterilization and hysterectomy also have a protective effect. Risk-reducing salpingo-oopherectomy has been suggested in women with BRCA mutations.

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