Lifesaving Chemo for Ovarian Cancer Is Underused

Aug. 5, 2015 -- Almost a decade ago, the National Cancer Institute alerted doctors that a treatment that could extend the lives of women with advanced ovarian cancer was not being used often enough.

The announcement was supposed to make the treatment, called intraperitoneal chemotherapy or IP, more widely available.

A new study shows that hasn't happened, though.

The study of 823 ovarian cancer patients treated at six specialty cancer centers found that fewer than half of women eligible for IP chemotherapy received it between 2006, the year the NCI issued the alert, and 2012.

What's more, use of the treatment varied greatly, with some centers reporting rates of IP as low as 4% and as high as 67%.

IP chemo involves pumping drugs toxic to tumors directly into the abdominal cavity, along with delivering them through a vein. The idea is that soaking internal organs in the potent medications, and delivering them through the blood, packs a one-two punch to slow or stop aggressive cancers.

Why Isn't the Treatment Used More?

"It's depressing," says Barbara Ann Goff, MD, director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. She was not involved in the study. "These very vulnerable women are not being treated according to what we know is going to give them the best chance of cure."

About 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. each year. In nearly two-thirds of women, the disease has already spread beyond the ovaries by the time it's found, lowering their chances of survival. Only 27% of women who are diagnosed after their cancer has spread will survive for 5 years, according to data collected by the National Cancer Institute.

"Doctors think women with ovarian cancer are going to die no matter what you do, so why put them through something that's toxic?" Goff says.

People who get IP chemotherapy do have more short-term side effects like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and pain compared to people who only get standard chemotherapy, but research shows they also live longer.

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