Art of Aging: Treating ovarian cancer

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Ovarian cancer has proven to be one of the most difficult cancers to fight. It's often more advanced when it's caught, and advances in treatment have been slow.

But now, local hospital is making progress on two fronts.

With breast cancer in her family, Marcia Hutter was conscientious about mammograms.

But she was shocked when what seemed like a minor post-menopausal issue turned out to be ovarian cancer.

"I never expected anything like this to happen," she said.

The risk of ovarian cancer rises with age - half occur in women 63 years of age or older. Obesity is one risk factor.

So is a family history of breast or colorectal cancer.

"From a parent, either a mother or a father. So people need to remember both sides, not just the mother's side," said Dr. Stickles from Main Line Health.

Dr. Stickles put Hutter on a double course of chemotherapy through her blood system plus directly into her abdomen.

Intraperitoneal chemo is proven to extend lives, though studies show it's underused.

"Over half the women who have ovarian cancer are not receiving standard of care therapies," said Dr. Stickles.

At the nearby Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, Dr. Susan Gilmour is seeking ways to make chemotherapy more effective.

Her team is focusing on the blood thinner Pradaxa.

"Many cancer patients have an increased incidence of developing potentially lethal blood clots," said Dr. Gilmour.

Chemotherapy can boost the clotting risk even more.

In lab tests, Dr. Gilmour says Pradaxa not only blocked a key blood clot trigger...

"It actually did slow the tumor growth as well as the metastases," she said.

There were also signs it helped the body's own immune system fight the cancer better.

The next step is to test the drug's safety in cancer patients.

Marcia Hutter is now cancer-free, and back to her regular routine. However, she and Dr. Stickles agree the experience was a vital lesson - don't take any symptom for granted.

"Ovarian cancer symptoms can mimic many, many other diseases," said Dr. Stickles.

"Get it checked out," said Hutter.

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