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Stopping ovarian cancer by detecting symptoms early

There are currently three FDA-approved PARP inhibitors that doctors can prescribe for women with advanced ovarian cancer.

ORLANDO, Fla — Almost 20,000 women developed ovarian cancer this year, and experts projected 12,000 women will die from it. For years, it’s been known as the silent killer because the symptoms are vague, and it’s often caught in late stages. 

Now, scientists are studying targeted therapies called PARP inhibitors on advanced ovarian cancers that were treated and have recurred.

Karen Ingalls and her husband Jim make the very best of every day. Fourteen years ago, this retired nurse got the news that changed her life.

“My one and only symptom was a bloating stomach, which I just attributed to being 67, postmenopausal,” Ingalls told Ivanhoe.

But after a scan…

“That showed a tumor about the size of a honeydew melon. When I woke up from surgery, he told me I had ovarian cancer and stage two C and was given a 50% chance to live five years,” Ingalls recalled.

Ingalls had chemo, but the cancer came back. She had chemo again, but when the cancer came back the third time, doctors had something new.

“Three months after my surgery, I started on a PARP inhibitor and was on that for four and a half years,” said Ingalls.

PARP is a type of enzyme that helps repair DNA damage in cells. PARP inhibitors are drugs that work by preventing cancer cells from repairing, allowing the cancer to die. New research is evaluating PARP inhibitors in women with  advanced ovarian cancer

UC San Francisco gynecologic oncologist, Dr. John Chan, MD, explained, “And in those patients, despite good surgery, adequate chemotherapy, 70, 80% of the time, these cancers still recur.”

While PARP inhibitors aren’t a cure for these women, researchers say for some, they extend the time between chemotherapy and recurrence. In some by months, and others by years.

“We're seeing impacts in our advanced ovarian cancer patients that we've never seen before,” Dr. Chan added.

Ingalls’ cancer is not growing right now, and she’s lived eight years beyond the initial prediction that she would have just five.

“So, I figured out five years equaled 3.6 plus million seconds, moments,” she explained.

She spent those moments – and now, more – with Jim, and letting other women know – as a speaker and author – that there are options for ovarian cancer patients.

“I truly believe that that's one of the things that has kept her alive and kept her going and kept her young,” Jim said about his wife.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at ann.sterling@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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