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Seeking the secrets to increasing ovarian cancer survival

May 06, 2016 | John Murray
Female patient with doctor

Ovarian cancer is definitely not a subject most women contemplate on Mother’s Day. However, May 8 is also World Ovarian Cancer Day, an appropriate occasion to mark the receipt of Phase II funding for a unique collaboration co-led by UC Irvine cancer researcher Lari Wenzel, PhD, to unlock the secrets of long-term survival for this deadly disease.

“Too many women die way too soon from ovarian cancer and we know very little about the characteristics of those rare patients who beat this disease,” Wenzel says, noting that Stages III and IV ovarian cancer are the most lethal of all gynecologic cancers.

To find answers, Wenzel and colleagues across the country created the Consortium for Long-Term Survival with support from the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Research Program.

Groundbreaking cancer research

The consortium, led by Michael Birrer, MD, PhD, director of the Gillette Center for Gynecologic Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and co-led by Wenzel, associate director of population science and cancer control at the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, is focused on finding the “key” to long-term survival through systemic analysis of molecular features within ovarian cancer tumors along with genetic, quality of life, and lifestyle attributes that may contribute to and even predict long-term survival for patients with Stages III and IV ovarian cancer.

“This is groundbreaking and life-changing work and UC Irvine is proud to be a part of it,” Wenzel says. “The strength of this project is its ‘systems’ approach and comprehensive analysis — it is our hypothesis that many of these endpoints are interrelated and may serve as predictors of long-term survival.” 

Wenzel says patients diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer very rarely survive five years, a common time frame in which to measure the relative effectiveness of treatment. This makes studying those who have survived more than 10 years a potentially deep source of knowledge about how to improve the lives of women who are newly diagnosed.

Improving lives of patients

“We have had a very enthusiastic response from the ovarian cancer survivor population nationally; women appreciate the opportunity to share their experience, and importantly, to give back to others,” says Wenzel. “We are committed to understanding the factors that influence long-term survival of ovarian cancer patients and developing ways to help patients live longer, and with improved quality of life.”

The consortium partners with several groups to seek input, advice and expertise, including the Gynecologic Oncology Group, founded in 1970 to promote excellence in quality and integrity of research in gynecologic malignancies. 

Others include seven research organizations across the United States and Europe, and the active support of 11 foundations that advocate for patients with ovarian cancer. Key contributors to the consortium include UCI Health gynecologic oncology experts Dr. Philip DiSaia and Dr. Robert Bristow, and Dr. Kathryn Osann of the UCI Health Division of Hematology/Oncology.

Wenzel says the consortium’s broad geographical reach, combined with its interdisciplinary scientific expertise and extensive patient involvement, is a unique setting in which to understand the nature of ovarian cancer and identify factors that contribute to longer survival and better survivorship. 

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