From Our 2007 Archives

Hormone Therapy Extends Lives of Ovarian Cancer Patients

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- Hormone therapy that has proved successful against breast cancer may also extend and improve the lives of women with estrogen-sensitive ovarian cancer, a British study suggests.

Letrozole hormone therapy may also be an alternative to chemotherapy for some women with the disease, according the report in the June 15 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

"This study demonstrates that some ovarian cancers are responsive to anti-estrogen hormonal therapy, and these cancers, and therefore the patients who would benefit, can be identified," said lead researcher Simon Langdon, a Cancer Research UK scientist and a senior lecturer in cancer research at the University of Edinburgh.

Langdon noted that his team's research has shown that growth of certain ovarian cancers is stimulated by the female hormone estrogen. "These cancers could be identified as those possessing high levels of the estrogen receptor," he said.

For the study, which included 44 women, the researchers used letrozole, which works by limiting production of estrogen in the body. "This treatment then effectively starves the ovarian cancer of estrogen and inhibits growth," Langdon said.

During six months of treatment, 25 percent of the women had no tumor growth, and 33 percent of the women with the greatest estrogen values had a positive response that delayed the use of chemotherapy. "Within the trial, we were able to show that tumors with the highest levels of estrogen receptor were the most likely to respond to treatment," Langdon said.

"This approach provides an addition to chemotherapy for this disease," he added. "It is unlikely to replace chemotherapy but could be used to delay the need for chemotherapy."

The patients most likely to benefit from the therapy can be identified before treatment starts. So, this kind of approach means women can be better targeted and the drug not given to those unlikely to benefit who should receive some other type of treatment, Langdon said.

The American Cancer Society reports that ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in women, not including skin cancer. There will be about 22,430 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States this year, and an estimated 15,280 women will die from the disease.

A large majority -- about two-thirds -- of women with ovarian cancer are 55 or older. A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer is about one in 67, according to the cancer society.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said, "Letrozole is already approved for treating ovarian cancer in women who have failed other treatment. This study refines these researchers' previous work by identifying those women with estrogen-receptor-sensitive ovarian cancer who are the most likely to respond to this drug.

"Whether the drug should be started earlier in the course of ovarian cancer and whether we should be evaluating whether or not a woman has estrogen-receptor-sensitive ovarian cancer are questions that need to be answered," he said.

SOURCES: Simon Langdon, Ph.D., Cancer Research UK scientist, senior lecturer, Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., deputy chief medical officer, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; June 15, 2007, Clinical Cancer Research

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