Ovarian Cancer Drug Offers Hope

It’s a diagnosis that every woman dreads- ovarian cancer.  The early symptoms, which include bloating, loss of appetite and back pain are often fairly mild and are often confused with non-life -threatening conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or period pains.  Because of this, a high proportion of women diagnosed with this condition do not receive a diagnosis until cancer has spread. It has been estimated that around 22,000 women in the United States alone will be diagnosed with the condition in 2016, and around 14,000 will die each year of cancer known as the “silent killer”. There is no screening test available to accurately detect ovarian cancer.

Hope of prolonging the life of some patients in the advanced stages of ovarian cancer is now offered by AstraZeneca’s Olaparib (brand name Lynparza).  This drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration back in 2014.  It gives hope to those 10-15% of ovarian cancer patients who have BRCA1 or BRCA2-mutated ovarian cancer.  Before they are able to receive the treatment, patients must be tested for the BRCA gene mutation, a hereditary mutation.

The drug is one of a new a type of drug known as Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors (PARP- inhibitors).  It is a form of targeted cancer therapy which aims to attack the cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Not surprisingly, the drug carries the risk of side-effects, ranging from mild symptoms such as tiredness and joint pains, to serious and even life-threatening bone marrow problems such as AML leukaemia and serious lung problems.   The drug is approved for use by patients who have already undergone three or more courses of chemotherapy.  Women who are taking Lynparza (which is administered orally) will be given blood tests every month to monitor for some of the possible side-effects.

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