On average, 50% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will live for at least five years and about one in three will live at least 10 years, according to the NHS. Those are not great odds, so new treatments and ways of detecting ovarian cancer are essential to improve them.
There are three types of ovarian cancer: epithelial, germ cell and sex-cord stromal. About 90% of ovarian cancer tumors are epithelial, meaning they originate in the thin tissue surrounding the ovary.
I was diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer, stage IIIc on November 21, 2017 and started chemo on January 11, 2018.
Currently there are more than 1,350 clinical trials for ovarian cancer, including a vaccine trial aimed at preventing recurrence. Clinical trials are an important step in discovering new treatments for diseases as well as new ways to detect, diagnose, and reduce the risk of a disease. They are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans; they show researchers what does and doesn’t work in people; and they help researchers and doctors decide if the side effects of a new treatment are acceptable when weighed against the benefits offered by the new treatment.
The clinical trial I am in is designed to test the effects of TECENTRIQ™ (atezolizumab), a cancer immunotherapy drug designed to work with the body’s own immune system. The study is designed to compare the efficacy and safety of atezolizumab + paclitaxel + carboplatin + bevacizumab versus a placebo + paclitaxel + carboplatin + bevacizumab. It’s being carried out by the GOGFoundation (Gynecologic Oncology Group), and has a goal of 1300 participating patients who are either in the primary surgery group or the neoadjuvant group (I’m in the latter).
The neoadjucant group gets either a placebo or atezolizumab plus carboplatin, paclitaxel, and bevacizumab for the first two cycles, while in cycles 3 and 4 the bevacizumab will be omitted. In Cycles 5 and 6 I’ll get either a placebo or atezolizumab + carboplatin, paclitaxel, and bevacizumab.
After completing 6 cycles, I’ll move to maintenance therapy that includes atezolizumab or placebo plus bevecazumab. After 22 cycles of treatment, the trial ends.
As part of the study I’ll also have follow up visits every 3 months for the first two years following the end of my chemo treatment a.k.a cycle 6, then every 6 months for 3 years after that, and then annually for as long as I agree to them.
I also will do questionnaires every 3 months post chemo for a year; then every 6 months in year 2, and then annually for 3 more years.
In the meantime, I have had regular blood work and CT scans, and have filled out a number of questionnaires.
Currently, TECENTRIQ™ is FDA approved to treat a type of bladder and urinary tract cancer called urothelial carcinoma and a type of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
While I may or may not benefit from this trial, I wanted to be a part of it for several reasons:
First, because for every medicine and intervention that people have ever taken, there are thousands of patients who have volunteered to participate in clinical trials, which have led to many breakthroughs in disease prevention and treatment in the last half-century. Without the willingness of these individuals, many would have suffered.
Second, clinical trials also can contribute invaluable information about the benefits and safety of existing therapies, providing doctors and patients with reliable information for choosing between alternative treatments.
Third I may benefit from my participation, and even if I don’t other women will.
To say I was gobsmacked when I received my diagnosis is an understatement, but being able to be part of group of people who have helped to develop the new drugs, devices, biologics, and treatments for the future, means I am improving the care of my fellow humans, and while having ovarian cancer is awful, knowing I might be helping others is something I can do as I battle my disease.