Hormone Help for Ovarian Cancer?
Anti-Estrogen Drug Femara May Help Curb Estrogen-Sensitive Ovarian Cancer
June 15, 2007 -- Ovarian cancers that are sensitive to the hormone estrogen
may be partly tamed by anti-estrogen therapy.
That's according to a Scottish study published today in the journal
Clinical Cancer Research.
The researchers included John Smyth, MD, FRCP, a professor of medical
oncology at the University of Edinburgh.
"This is an important landmark in the research and treatment of ovarian
cancer," Smyth says in a University of Edinburgh news release.
"Despite intense scientific research over the past 20 years, there have
been few new leads in our understanding of how this disease operates. But this
study suggests that the addition of hormone therapy to our treatment strategy
could extend and improve the lives of women with ovarian cancer," says
In the U.S., ovarian cancer causes more cancer deaths than any other female
reproductive system cancer. The American Cancer Society predicts that there
will be about 22,430 new cases of ovarian cancer and about 15,280 deaths from
ovarian cancer in the U.S. this year.
Ovarian Cancer Study
The Scottish study included 42 women with recurrent, estrogen-sensitive
The patients took a drug called Femara, which is an aromatase inhibitor, a
type of drug that curbs estrogen production.
Smyth and colleagues monitored the women's blood level of a tumor marker
called CA-125, a substance found in higher concentrations in ovarian cancer
than in other cells. The blood test is used to monitor patients with a known
Eleven of the 42 patients (26%) showed no tumor growth over six months,
based on their CA-125 levels.
The women whose tumors were most highly sensitive to estrogen were the most
likely to respond to Femara treatment.
The researchers write that while more studies are needed, they believe that
Femara might be most helpful when given early in treatment for
estrogen-sensitive ovarian cancer, such as immediately after chemotherapy.
"Ovarian cancer can be a devastating disease, so this new discovery is
particularly exciting," says Simon Langdon, PhD, in the University of
Edinburgh news release.
Langdon, who worked on the study, is Honorary Senior Lecturer at the
Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh.
"We still have a lot to do, but this research has furthered our
understanding of the hormone control of ovarian cancer, which could provide
less grueling treatments for cancer patients. It presents new possibilities for
tailor-made cancer therapy and demands further investigation," says
The study -- which was partly funded by Novartis, Femara's maker -- didn't
test other hormonal treatments for ovarian cancer.
"The aim of this study was not to show that [Femara] was superior to
other hormonal agents in the treatment of ovarian cancer, but that
pre-selection of patients according to estrogen-receptor status results in a
significant percentage of patients benefiting from anti-estrogen therapy,"
write the researchers.