The Benefits of Clinical Trials for Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Advancing cancer care through clinical trials
By Denise Uyar, MD
As a program of the only academic medical center in eastern Wisconsin, the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Gynecologic Oncology Program offers women with ovarian cancer compassionate, multidisciplinary team care while also expanding treatment beyond the standard of care through clinical trials. The program and its experts are part of the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network, offering women with ovarian and all other gynecologic cancers multiple locations for treatment.
When you think about participating in a clinical trial for cancer care, it can be intimidating and, frankly, scary. It is important to know that trials aren’t solely for women who have exhausted their treatment options or those who have had limited treatment success. More and more, we discuss clinical trials as an option during the earliest phases of treatment planning after a woman’s initial ovarian cancer diagnosis. A team of physicians, nurses, coordinators, advanced nurse practitioners and physician assistants are there to support all of our patients, including those who participate in clinical trials. We recognize that clinical trial participation requires specialized care and attention. And the best news is that this approach is working.
Standard therapies that have been the backbone of treatment recommendations since the 1980s have given way to new combination therapies and innovative targeted therapies. Thanks to breakthroughs in clinical research, our knowledge of ovarian cancer has increased significantly and our approach to treatment has advanced, as well. These advances are the hard-earned result of generous patients who made that critical first step in deciding to participate in a clinical trial. An example of a clinical trial for initial ovarian cancer treatment at the Froedtert & MCW Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital is our trial determining whether or not pairing standard chemotherapy with immunotherapy will be more effective for women receiving their first course of treatment after an ovarian cancer diagnosis. This clinical trial, initiated at our Clinical Cancer Center, was one of the first trials in the country to combine chemotherapy and immunotherapy for ovarian cancer.
Improving the Standard of Care
Most women with advanced ovarian cancer respond well to initial therapy and achieve a period of remission (a time when there is no obvious cancer present). Unfortunately, ovarian cancer often recurs within the first two to three years after a woman completes therapy. Our gynecologic cancer team was proud to be able to participate in an international clinical trial that was one of the first trials to use the oral drug olaparib for maintenance therapy (treatment that continues after completion of chemotherapy) for women diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and the BRCA genetic mutation. Olaparib was found to substantially decrease the risk of disease progression and death. As a result of this impactful trial and others, olaparib is now part of the standard of care for this population of patients. It is being studied in combination with other treatments for ovarian cancer, as well as treatments for many other cancers.
Why Participate in a Clinical Trial?
Some people are concerned about participating in clinical trials. They are worried that, because the treatment is experimental, they won’t receive effective care or won’t be monitored as closely. In reality, it is the opposite. Before a clinical trial begins, it undergoes rigorous vetting to make sure it is safe. You will be monitored carefully throughout the trial by our team of multidisciplinary experts. Finally, you can stop participating in the trial at any time; it is always completely your choice.
If you choose to participate, you’ll receive extensive education about the medications you will receive and about imaging and other tests involved. We will go through every possible anticipated side effect so you know what to expect. Of course, it is not possible to know if every clinical trial will have the anticipated impact, but we can only improve our cancer outcomes by trying new therapies based on emerging knowledge. Participating in a clinical trial is a personal decision, and it is a gift to all women. We are proud to be able to offer this choice at our Clinical Cancer Center. We are grateful to those who participate in clinical trials; they play a vital role in transforming ovarian cancer treatment for women around the world for decades to come.
(Denise Uyar, MD, is a gynecologic oncologist within the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network. She sees her patients at the Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital.)