Medical Moment: Using PARP inhibitors to stop ovarian cancer

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 7:08 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Almost 20,000 women developed ovarian cancer this year.

12,000 are expected to die.

For years, it’s been known as the silent killer. Symptoms are vague, meaning when it’s caught, it’s usually too late.

But now, there’s hope.

Scientists are studying targeted therapies that show some promise.

Karen Ingalls and her husband Jim make the very best of every day. 14 years ago, this retired nurse got news that changed her life.

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

But after a scan...

“And 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 continued.

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

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

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.

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

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, in others by years.

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

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,” Ingalls said.

She spent those moments, and now, more - with her husband, 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 Ingalls said.

Currently, there are three FDA-approved PARP inhibitors that doctors can prescribe for women with advanced ovarian cancer. It’s important to note that researcher Dr. John Chan is also a paid consultant with Glaxo-Smith-Kline, a company that manufactures one of the PARP inhibitors.

Karen Ingalls writes about her ovarian cancer journey on her website.