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Ovarian cancer research

Women discussing ovarian cancer

This page of the ovarian cancer section is about research into the causes, prevention and treatments of cancer of the ovary. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Ovarian cancer research

All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. And so we know they are safe. First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. Only after we know that they are likely to be safe to use are they tested in people, in clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many UK and international clinical trials.

Researchers are looking into

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating ovarian cancer section.

 

 

Why do we need research?

All treatments must be fully researched before they can be used as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. And so we know that they are safe. For ethical and safety reasons, experimental treatments must be tested in the laboratory before they can be tried in patients. If a treatment described here is said to be at the laboratory stage of research, it is not ready for patients and is not available either within or outside the NHS. 

When a new treatment is tested in patients, it is called a clinical trial. Read more about clinical trials and how they work

If you are interested in taking part in research, visit our trials database. You can search for trials that are recruiting people in the UK. You can also look at trials that have closed and find results. 

Go to our trials database

Here is a video on experiences of taking part in a clinical trial:

View a transcript of the video (Opens in a new window) 

 

Research into prevention and early detection

There are various trials looking at ways to try to prevent and detect ovarian cancer earlier. We outline some of these trials below. 

Screening for ovarian cancer

At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to use for ovarian cancer. A trial called UKCTOCS has been looking at ovarian cancer screening in the general population between the ages of 50 to 74. They were looking at the CA125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound scan. 

You can read the UKCTOCS trial results

The UK Familial Ovarian Cancer Screening Study (UK FOCSS) is looking at screening women who are at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer because they have a family history of cancer of the ovary or breast, or they have family members with a known genetic fault (such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2). The research team found that yearly screening may not be enough to detect early stage ovarian cancer in women who are at high risk of developing the disease. 

Read the results of the UK FOCSS trial

From these screening studies, researchers now have a large number of blood samples that they can study to try and find biomarkers, other than CA 125, for ovarian cancer.

BRCA 1 and 2 and other genes

We can now test for 3 gene faults involved in ovarian cancer. If you have breast cancer and ovarian cancer in your family, it may be that people in your family are carrying a fault in one of the cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2. If you have one of these gene faults, you have an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Another gene fault that increases risk of ovarian cancer is HNPCC (hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer), also called Lynch syndrome.

Cancer Research UK funded scientists have discovered that faults in the RAD51D gene can also increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Testing for this gene fault in the future may be helpful for women with a family history of the disease. The researchers hope this discovery may also lead to the development of new treatments.

It is important to remember that most cancers happen because of damage to cells that occurs during our lives, not because we have inherited any specific gene fault. But the Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry trial found that in families where at least 2 relatives have (or have had) ovarian cancer, there were faults in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. 

You can search for trials on our clinical trials database

BRCA - ovarian cancer

Fluid and ovarian tissue samples

Researchers are looking at tissue and body fluid samples which they hope will help them diagnose, monitor and treat ovarian cancer more easily. Read about one of these trials.

 

Research into borderline ovarian tumours

Borderline ovarian tumours are not considered to be true cancers. They are made up of abnormal cells that may become cancer. They develop in the ovary but do not usually grow into surrounding tissue and rarely spread. Doctors and researchers want to find out more about how these tumours develop. They will gather information from samples of tumour tissue. They will also look at what treatment women have and will collect data from follow up visits. They hope this information will help them to be able to shape treatments to better suit individual women in the future.

You can find out about this borderline ovarian cancer trial on our clinical trials database.

 

Research into treatment 

Chemotherapy

Past trials have found which chemotherapy drugs work well for ovarian cancer. But current trials are testing the best time to have chemotherapy, the best combinations and doses of drugs, and different ways of giving chemotherapy. 

You can search for trials using chemotherapy in ovarian cancer on our clinical trials database. 

Biological therapies

Biological therapies are drugs that change the way cells work. They can boost the body's immune system to fight off or kill cancer cells. Or they can block signals that tell cells to grow. There are many different types of biological therapy including the following. 

Growth factor blocker drugs block proteins that make cells grow and multiply eg. nintedanib (BIBF 11200) and trametinib.

Blood supply blockers stop tumours from developing their own blood vessels. Without its own blood supply, a cancer cannot continue to grow. Angiogenesis means growth of new blood vessels, so you may hear these drugs called anti angiogenic drugs. Ovarian cancer trials are looking at 

  • bevacizumab (Avastin) 
  • cediranib (Recentin) 
  • pazopanib and fosbretabulin (also known as CA4P or combretastatin). 

Monoclonal antibodies recognise abnormal proteins on cancer cells. They can 

  • change how the cancer cell works
  • take chemotherapy or radiotherapy into the cell to kill it
  • make it easier for the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells

Monoclonal antibodies being researched in ovarian cancer include nivolumab and ipilimumab.

PARP-1 inhibitors are drugs that block proteins that help cells repair their DNA eg. rucaparib and olaparib. 

Vaccines help the immune system recognise and attack cancer cells. Research is looking at how they can stop cancers coming back. There is a trial looking at a vaccine called TroVax for ovarian cancer

You can search for trials using biological therapies to treat ovarian cancer. 

Hormone treatment

Research is trying to find out whether hormone treatment may help women with hormone receptor positive gynaecological cancer. The drug anastrozole is being looked at in the PARAGON trial

 

Helping with bowel problems after radiotherapy

Side effects of radiotherapy for ovarian cancer include frequent bowel movements, diarrhoea, pain, bleeding from the bowel and the forming of scar tissue in the bowel (radiation fibrosis). Trials are looking at ways to help with these side effects. 

The PPALM trial is looking at the use of a palm oil supplement and a drug called pentoxifylline to relieve symptoms caused by pelvic radiotherapy. Doctors think these may work well together to reduce radiation fibrosis. The trial team want to find out if this combination of treatment helps, and to learn more about the side effects.

You can search for trials for ovarian cancer on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.

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Updated: 27 April 2016