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Annually, more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Many ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed at a later stage of disease due in part to its vague symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal discomfort and change in bowel habits. These symptoms are commonly brushed off or mistaken for other ailments.
Until recently, patients had limited treatment options — typically surgery followed by chemotherapy. And approximately 70% of patients had a recurrence of disease.
But thanks to surgical advances, genetic testing and research, ovarian cancer patients now have hope for a brighter future.
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Mayo Clinic is one of a handful of centers around the country offering hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, also known as HIPEC, which delivers heated chemotherapy directly to cancer cells inside the abdominal cavity at the time of surgery.
Advances in genetic testing have given way to more individualized therapy, including the use of drugs based on a patient’s genetic profile, and targeted therapies that address certain characteristics of a patient’s tumor so the cancer cells die.
Researchers also are working on an ovarian cancer vaccine. Though currently being used to prevent recurrence of the disease, doctors hope to move the vaccine into primary prevention. “Ultimately, we want to give the vaccine to healthy individuals so we can actually prevent the development of disease,” says Dr. Keith Knutson, a Mayo Clinic immunologist and director of the Discovery and Translations Labs Cancer Research Program.