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Women who have advanced cancer of the ovary are often treated with surgery, followed by a chemotherapy combination that includes the drug cisplatin. However, cisplatin is associated with significant side effects including nausea, vomiting, and nerve damage that may be long standing. If side effects become too severe, doses of chemotherapy may have to be lowered or treatment delayed, which reduces the effectiveness of the treatment. Researchers from several cancer centers in Europe recently compared the effectiveness of another platinum chemotherapy drug, carboplatin, in place of cisplatin in an attempt to reduce side effects for women undergoing treatment of ovarian cancer.

Cancer of the ovary, or ovarian cancer, is a common malignancy occurring in women in the United States with about 25,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The ovaries are small female reproductive organs that reside in the pelvis. The ovary makes female hormones and stores all of the egg cells that are released once a month during ovulation. There are two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. Since ovarian cancers begin deep in the pelvis, they often do not cause any symptoms until they are at an advanced stage. At the time of initial diagnosis, the majority of women have advanced cancer that has spread to different sites in the body. Currently, very few women with advanced ovarian cancer are cured. Continual research for the development of new therapies and/or strategies is ongoing in an effort to increase survival time for women with ovarian cancer.

A recent study evaluated the effectiveness and severity of side effects of the combination of chemotherapy drugs consisting of paclitaxel combined with either carboplatin or cisplatin. Two hundred and eight patients with advanced ovarian cancer received treatment with either carboplatin plus paclitaxel or cisplatin plus paclitaxel following surgery. Due to the severity of side effects, 17% of patients receiving cisplatin had to discontinue the treatment compared to only 5% of patients receiving carboplatin. Importantly, the group receiving carboplatin did not stay in the hospital following treatment while those receiving cisplatin required admittance to the hospital because of side effects. The average survival times were 30 months for patients receiving cisplatin and 32 months for patients receiving carboplatin.

The results of this study show that the combination of carboplatin plus paclitaxel is effective for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer. In addition, patients receiving carboplatin plus paclitaxel did not experience severe side effects similar to patients receiving cisplatin plus paclitaxel. This and other clinical trials have confirmed that carboplatin produces similar results to cisplatin with fewer side effects. Women with ovarian cancer may wish to talk to their doctor about receiving carboplatin or about the participation in a clinical trial using other promising new treatments. (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 18, No 17, pp 3084-3092, 2000)

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