February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month held to educate people on the disease as it is still one of the deadliest women’s cancer. Every day in Australia, four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and sadly three will die, however Mater is providing hope with research and treatment.
Working tirelessly in this area is Professor John Hooper a Mater Researcher who leads the Cancer Cell Biology Research Group and is one of the co-leaders of the Mater Ovarian Cancer Research Collaborative (MOCRC).
John explains research into ovarian cancer is important as it is a disease of unmet need which has not received the attention or funding of other cancers.
“Unfortunately it doesn’t have the profile in the community of some other cancers and as a result isn’t as well supported; but with greater awareness that’s starting to change” he said.
“In terms of survival rate, Australia is performing better than much of the rest of the world with a survival rate within the first five years of about 48%, and the data from Mater is slightly better with patients having a 53% survival rate.
“I’m hoping it’ll reach 60% in the not too distant future and climb even further as new genetic tests, improved therapies and the effects of increased awareness leading to earlier diagnosis continue to benefit patients.”
A current focus of John’s research is the relatively new area of theranostics – a combination of diagnostics and therapies to fight the disease and improve patient outcomes.
“In exciting recent developments we have identified a new agent to specifically target a variety of payloads to ovarian cancers. When we attach radio-imaging payloads to this agent we can detect even small tumours ion our model systems. And when we attach cytotoxic payloads we’re seeing very promising growth-restricting effects on EOC that promote increased survival,” John said.
“We’re currently designing a pilot study in patients to test the safety and biodistribution of this agent. If that’s successful it could lead to trialling this agent for treatment of ovarian cancer. We live in hope.”
John stresses his research is part of a multidisciplinary effort from doctors and scientists sharing information and resources both at Mater and across the globe.
“The more people who can be involved in ovarian cancer research the better, we are able to maximise our impact by sharing ideas and knowledge. It’s in the Mater’s DNA to do this,” John said.
“Here at Mater I work very closely with Departments including gynaecology oncology, pathology and medical oncologyto perform research studies; we are a tight knit collaborative group.
“This also extends to collaborative efforts with teams around the world. My research has been published with researchers from the Mayo Clinic, University of British Colombia and the Technical University of Munich. This is important as it gives other researchers the opportunity to review and critique my work plus potentially bring in new ideas.”
John also acknowledges the tremendous support provided to him by the Mater Foundation, including events such as Catherine’s High Tea and Cocktails for a Cure where proceeds go toward supporting the research of MOCRC. To make a donation or find out more please click here.
Finally recognising the symptoms of the disease can be live saving, the Ovarian Cancer Network has the following advice,
Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
- Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain
- Feeling full after eating a small amount
- Needing to urinate often or urgently
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Lower back pain
- Indigestion or nausea
- Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
- Pain during sex or bleeding after
It is important to remember all the symptoms mentioned can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, which are persistent and troublesome, you should see your doctor, and if appropriate get rapidly referred to a gynaecological oncologist. They will be able to examine you and if necessary, do further tests to find the cause of your problems. To find out more click here.