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Drug trial is helping Utah woman beat back ovarian cancer

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — In the past, women with advanced ovarian cancer did not have a good chance of living five years past diagnosis.

Recent trials, however, show promise for a category of drugs that target the cancer cells.

They provide new hope for longer lives for women with ovarian cancer.

Doctors at Huntsman Cancer Institute have conducted trials for poly adenosine diphosphate-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors for several years which have been effective at keeping ovarian cancer in remission and extending patients' lives.

That's a big change for the patients and the doctors.

"If you look at the women who got the PARP inhibitor compared to those who didn't, they are having more clinical benefit and living longer," Dr. Theresa Werner, a medical oncologist and senior director of clinical research at Huntsman Cancer Institute, said.

She pointed out that ovarian cancer is not the most common cancer, but it is one of the most deadly.

There's not a good screening test like there is for breast cancer and colon cancer, for example.

Werner said 75% of the cases present at a more advanced stage, which makes it harder to treat.

"The cure rate is lower the later someone presents," Werner said.

PARP inhibitors, taken as a pill, are changing the lives of women with ovarian cancer who did not think they would live long.

"Taking that medicine after chemotherapy actually helps keep women in remission, and helps improve their survival," the oncologist said.

Joanna Lynch was diagnosed with ovarian cancer nine years ago and had surgery and chemotherapy.

Her cancer came back not once, but twice. That's when Dr. Werner put her on PARP inhibitors.

"That was five years ago," Lynch said. "So, we hope that's the way it is for the next 20."

As a physician assistant herself, she knew those drugs were her best option. She said the drugs have helped her, even psychologically.

"I was able to sort of know I have it (cancer) but feel like I have some control over it because now I can take a medication that helps kill those cancer cells," she said.

Without the drug, she said, she's not so sure she would be here today.

"If you have to have a disease like this, it's better to be at the point where you can benefit from everyone before you, and that you're at that change window, versus ten years ago, or more, I don't know that I would have had an option."

Today, she lives a fun life, paddle boarding, fly fishing, painting, and traveling with her husband.

"I just do whatever I want," Lynch said. "There's nothing I can't do."

"It's these patients who help us find these answers, and it benefits the next generation of people," Dr. Werner said. "I think we're changing the trajectory of ovarian cancer, which is exciting."

The cancer could still come back but Lynch said she hopes she stays on the drug forever because she has her life back.

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Jed Boal


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