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Ovarian Cancer from Beyond the Ovary: Perspectives on Science, Clinical Progress & Advocacy

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

This is excellent stuff from #OCRA Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance It is essential to merge the research for all #gynecological cancers versus working and studying them in silos. The survival rates of #ovariancancer remain the same and we need to do better. When my Mom had ovarian cancer she was diagnosed at stage 3C which means it has traveled beyond the ovaries. Stage 3C: Cancer has spread to the #peritoneum and the cancer in the peritoneum is larger than 2 centimeters and/or #cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the abdomen. The pathology report found cancer in her #fallopian tubs, #endometrium and many other organs within her abdomen but NOT in her #lymphnodes. The endometrium is the lining of the #uterus.

The Ovarian Cancer Researh Alliance is doing grea things. Here is how you can help:

“I don’t believe we can maximize our impact on ovarian cancer without embracing opportunities in other gynecologic cancers.”
Dr. David Huntsman

David Huntsman, MD, FRCPC, FCCMG, understands the field of ovarian cancer research. He is the Scientific Director and Co-Founder of OVCARE, which is now part of British Columbia’s Gynecologic Cancer Initiative. He works with the British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver General Hospital, and is a Professor and the Canada Research Chair in Molecular and Genomic Pathology at the University of British Columbia. And he feels strongly there is much progress to be made in ovarian cancer research and treatment if we look beyond the ovary.

Dr. Huntsman was drawn to the field of ovarian cancer by the “horribly low” survival rates of the disease, which have not seen much improvement in recent years. “There’s been some uptick,” he said when he spoke at OCRA’s Ovarian Cancer National Conference in September 022, “but we’re not where we need to be. We need to do better.”

In his remarks at the Conference, he reminisced back to the year 2000, when the Division Head of Gynecologic Oncology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UBC, Dr. Dianne Miller, “called a meeting and said she was just sick of seeing women die of this can er, and maybe if we work together, we could do something about it.” So they joined forces, sharing information about prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, and founded OVCARE, a multidisciplinary team that included researchers, pathologists, geneticists, epidemiologists, and gynecologic surgeons from multiple institutions.

They soon discovered that ovarian cancer subtypes w re not recognized, and so all were treated and studied the same way. “The classification system used by pathologists, like myself, did not work,” Dr. Huntsman said, and this led to very little progress.

He and his team worked to crystallize how they classified ovarian cancer, and were able to show both in research and in practice that the subtypes of ovarian cancer are essentially different diseases. For example, Dr. Huntsman points out that clear cell ovarian cancer, from a histotype perspective (meaning, looking at the tissues that arise during the growth of a tumor) actually has a lot more in common with kidney cancer than any other ovarian cancer.

“Every way that you can define distinct diseases – etiology, precursor lesions, molecular characteristics, presentation, clinical course, biomarker profiles, response to therapy – shows that ovarian cancers are different,” said Dr. Huntsman.

“Our team coalesced around the idea that if these are different diseases, we need to treat them that way clinically and in the lab. This was a shift.”

“We can’t just stick with the ovaries. It doesn’t tell us what we need to know.

We have to be outside the ovary to understand what’s going on inside the ovary,” Dr. Huntsman said, explaining OVCARE’s change from being just an ovarian cancer focused team to a much broader initiative – The Gynecologic Cancer Initiative.

They needed to study normal and abnormal fallopian tube and uterine tissue in order to understand ovarian cancer. And it’s the same community. Patients with various gynecologic cancers – cervix, uterine, ovarian, fallopian – are all meeting in the same clinics, being treated by the same doctors. There is complementary expertise that can be brought into the ovarian cancer space.

They came up with a singular goal: if they put together everything they do in terms of prevention, diagnosis, management, and survivorship, they thought they could decrease death and suffering from gynecologic cancers by 50%. “I find this absolutely motivating,” Dr. Huntsman said.


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