Targeted therapies and ovarian cancer

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Cancer occurs when genetic mutations in our cells cause them to multiply uncontrollably and accumulate to form a tumour. Targeted cancer therapies are drugs that stop the spread of cancer by identifying and blocking the genetic changes responsible for the cancer’s growth and progression.

There are currently three different targeted therapies available to women with ovarian cancer. Find out whether you’re eligible and how to access these treatments. 

Avastin

Avastin (the brand name of the drug Bevacizumab) belongs to a group of treatments called anti-angiogenics. These treatments stop cancer from developing new blood vessels. This restricts the supply of food and oxygen to the cancer, which means it is starved and unable to grow. 

In England Avastin is used to treat first-line ovarian cancer following the standard treatment combination of Carboplatin and Paxitaxol. It is available through the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) only to patients with advanced ovarian cancer as a maintenance drug, which means it aims to prevent or delay the cancer’s return. 

In Scotland, Avastin is available for women with recurrent, platinum resistant ovarian cancer.

You can read about the different side-effects of Avastin here

PARP inhibitors

PARP inhibitors are a new class of targeted cancer drug that is becoming more common in ovarian cancer treatment. 

PARPs are proteins that help damaged cells repair themselves and in cancer treatment PARP inhibitors stop this from happening in damaged ovarian cancer cells. Being unable to repair themselves, the cancer cells die.  

There are currently two PARP inhibitors available to treat ovarian cancer: Olaparib and Niraparib.

Olaparib

Olaparib (also known by its brand name Lynparza) is used to treat epithelial ovarian cancer that has recurred for a second time in women with a BRCA 1/2 gene mutation. Olaparib doesn’t cure ovarian cancer but it does prevent its progression. By delaying the spread of the disease, women can feel better and live healthier lives for longer. The increase in time between rounds of chemotherapy, combined with the fact Olaparib can be taken in tablet form at home, means fewer trips to the hospital to receive treatment. 

Although Olaparib is currently available to a very small number of patients, results from a recent study could mean that significantly more women are able to access the drug at a much earlier stage. Read the news here

Cancer Research UK provides a useful overview of Olaparib which you can read here. 

Niraparib

Niraparib is used to treat high grade serous non-mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer. It’s available as a maintenance therapy for women who have a platinum-sensitive recurrent ovarian cancer, women who have responded to a round of chemotherapy since their cancer returned. 

It is available to women regardless of whether they have a BRCA gene mutation or not. Women with and without a BRCA gene mutation are eligible for the drug if they haven’t previously been prescribed a PARP inhibitor as part of their treatment. 

Niraparib can be accessed by women across the UK. 

Read more about its approval for NHS use and in Northern Ireland here.

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