Changing the future of ovarian cancer

Meet a group of women who are at the centre of pioneering research in Cambridge that’s aiming to alter the outcome for ovarian cancer patients.

Every patient with cancer has a story to tell about their journey through diagnosis and treatment. A group of women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer are at the centre of pioneering research in Cambridge, helping to create treatments that are as unique as their stories.

Each year, about 7,500 women in the UK are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and around 5,000 will have the most aggressive form of the disease. The cure rate for women with ovarian cancer is very low, despite new medicines coming into the clinic. Only 43% of women in England survive five years beyond their ovarian cancer diagnosis, compared with more than 80% of people for more common cancers, such as breast (85%) and prostate (87%). This is because the disease is often diagnosed late, treatment options are limited, and many women develop resistance to current therapies. Research by Professors James Brenton and Evis Sala, at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, aims to address this. Among the women at the centre of the programme are Panagiota, Margaret and Melanie.


Panagiota

Panagiota experienced various symptoms that didn’t quite feel right for a couple of years. She felt pain and swelling in her abdomen and intestines for around six months. Her GP ran tests, but the results were inconclusive at first, so no further action was taken. As Panagiota’s pain became more severe, she was sent for additional blood tests. That same day, her doctor called and instructed her to go to A&E to be treated for suspected pulmonary embolism. CT scans of her upper body showed nodules at the bottom of her rib cage.

Panagiota received a stage 3, metastatic ovarian cancer diagnosis; the cancer had spread to the peritoneum and throughout the abdominal area. Panagiota got through the incredibly difficult treatment time with the help of her loving family. She underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before surgery, which proved a success. She says she was treated by an amazing multidisciplinary team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, who have since put her on PARP inhibitors, a new cancer drug, to stop the cancer from returning.

Panagiota is still closely monitored with frequent tests. She is also passionate that more funding be put into research to help other women to be diagnosed and treated faster in the future.

Panagiota
Panagiota

Margaret

Margaret’s diagnosis came just before Christmas 2020, against the backdrop of COVID-19 restrictions. Margaret noticed that she was having to stop to use the toilet while driving to work, and eventually developed severe pain. Having recovered from kidney cancer, she was concerned.

This was clearly more than the urinary infection that her GP had initially suspected. After surgery, which diagnosed stage 3 ovarian cancer, her treatment, thankfully, has been a success so far – but she says it has been a lonely journey. Following chemotherapy, she has also been treated with PARP inhibitors.

Participating in research at Cambridge has helped Margaret to understand her illness better and keep a more positive attitude. She hopes that volunteering will help benefit all women with the disease, and urges anyone in her position to come forward. She said: “I’m more positive about everything since joining the group. Even if there is no improvement for treatments for me, I hope that, at a later date, I may help other people.”

Margaret
Margaret


Melanie

Melanie was diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic ovarian cancer in 2018 and was treated by Professor Brenton in Cambridge. She has complete confidence in Professor Brenton and the team, and immediately agreed to join the research trials. She says that she’s been amazed to learn how quickly the research was advancing, even in the short time since she has been diagnosed.

It’s been great meeting the others in the patient group, Melanie adds. She feels they can raise awareness of the symptoms and encourage women to know their bodies, and to know when there is a change they shouldn’t ignore. Participating in the trials has helped Melanie better understand her body. She rules nothing out because of the chance that the trials would help her treatment, and the treatment of those in the future.

Melanie
Melanie


Visit the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre website here.

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