The presence of a particular type of immune cell can predict ho Researchers Investigate Immune Response to Better Understand How to Treat Advanced Ovarian Cancer | Ovarian Cancer News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Researchers Investigate Immune Response to Better Understand How to Treat Advanced Ovarian Cancer

The presence of a particular type of immune cell can predict how long patients with ovarian cancer will remain cancer-free after chemotherapy and helps determine their overall chances of survival, according to research led by the laboratory of George Coukos, MD, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania. This research marks the first time researchers have found that a spontaneous immune response against cancer influences the course of the disease. Dr. Coukos and colleagues hope to develop individualized treatments based on this information to improve the outcome for ovarian cancer patients.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women and the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that 25,400 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2003, and approximately 14,300 women will die from ovarian cancer this year. There are several different types of ovarian cancer. The most common form, epithelial carcinoma, develops on the surface of the ovary (the epithelium). A second type of ovarian cancer, a germ cell tumor, is less common than epithelial carcinoma and occurs when cancer develops in the egg-producing cells of the ovaries.

In a paper recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Coukos and his colleagues showed that the presence of certain immune cells called tumor-infiltrating T-cells can predict an improvement in the outcome of patients with advanced ovarian cancer. In their study, researchers identified the presence of these tumor-infiltrating T-cells in 102 of 186 women with ovarian cancer tumors. Among the advanced ovarian cancer patients with these T-cells, 38% were alive five years after their cancer diagnosis while only 4.5% of the women without these T-cells were still alive. Among the patients who received aggressive chemotherapy, those who had tumor-infiltrating T-cells were more likely to survive than patients without the T-cells.

Since the level of T-cells within ovarian cancer tumors can predict improved outcomes, researchers can now focus on determining why some patients’ immune systems mount a response to tumors while others do not. This could also lead to the possibility of inducing anti-tumor responses in patients who do not naturally launch an attack on tumors, thus improving patients’ chances of surviving ovarian cancer.

Finding effective treatments for advanced ovarian cancer is critical since only around 53% of women who are diagnosed with the disease survive longer than five years. The chances of surviving ovarian cancer are much higher when the disease is detected in its early stages.

The following are descriptions of two ovarian cancer clinical trials currently available to eligible women at the University of Pennsylvania:

  • The first trial is available to women with epithelial ovarian cancer whose cancer has spread to the peritoneal cavity after surgery and chemotherapy. This trial is investigating whether an immune therapy called intraperitoneal IL-12 (rhIL-12) can slow the growth of cancer in these patients. Eligible patients must have undergone surgery and chemotherapy and be candidates for a "second look" surgery. The trial will involve removing samples of tissue and placing a catheter (a small tube) into the abdomen, through which antibiotics and rhIL-12 will be administered.
  • The second trial is available to women with epithelial ovarian cancer who have not responded to chemotherapy or whose cancer has returned after treatment. Patients will receive stem cell transplants from sibling donors, followed by a vaccination with white blood cells. Other trials involving tumor vaccination without stem cell transplants are also planned.

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