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Women who have cancer of the ovary are usually treated initially with surgery, followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Researchers from Austria now report that the use of a combination of chemotherapy and a biologic therapy, called interferon-gamma, injected directly into the abdominal cavity may prolong the survival time for women with advanced ovarian cancer.

Cancer of the ovary is characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the ovary. There are 2 ovaries, located on either side of the uterus, or womb. Most of these cancers are of the lining, or epithelium, of the ovary. Treatment almost always involves surgery to remove the cancer, consisting of removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, the fatty tissue of the abdomen, and perhaps area lymph nodes. Following the surgery, many women receive chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. In some women who are diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer or who do not have a complete response to treatment, the cancer may come back after this initial treatment. French researchers have previously reported that the injection of an active anti-cancer biologic agent, interferon-gamma, directly into the abdominal cavity produced treatment responses in women with advanced ovarian cancer for whom initial chemotherapy had failed. Now, Austrian researchers report on the use of interferon-gamma therapy given at the same time as the initial chemotherapy for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer.

One hundred forty-eight women, with ovarian cancer stage Ic to IIIc, were treated with the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and cyclophosphamide. Some of the patients were assigned to also receive interferon-gamma for 6 days out of each monthly cycle of chemotherapy. The results showed that more than 50% of those who received interferon-gamma were alive after 3 years, compared to only 38% of those who received chemotherapy only. Complete clinical responses were achieved in 68% of women who received interferon-gamma and 56% of those who received chemotherapy only. The only side effect observed with the interferon-gamma treatment was a flu-like syndrome.

This study indicates that interferon-gamma may improve the effectiveness of initial chemotherapy for women with advanced ovarian cancer. Further studies to evaluate the use of interferon-gamma with other chemotherapy drugs. Persons who have cancer of the ovary may wish to talk with their doctor about the risks and benefits of interferon-gamma with chemotherapy, or of participating in a clinical trial in which other new treatments are being studied.

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