Ovarian Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2013

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors are working to learn more about ovarian cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

Screening. A screening method that estimates a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by using her age and the results of a yearly CA-125 blood test holds promise for detecting early-stage ovarian cancer. As explained in Diagnosis, CA-125 is a substance called a tumor marker that is found in higher levels in women with ovarian cancer.

In September 2012, the U.S Preventative Services Task Force released a statement saying that for the general population of women, with no symptoms, screening for ovarian cancer is not helpful and may lead to harm. However, women at high risk for ovarian cancer due to family history or BRCA mutation carriers (see Risk Factors) are recommended to have screening with CA-125 blood tests and transvaginal ultrasound.  

Risk reduction. Doctors are studying whether vitamins A and D and drugs that stop inflammation, such as COX-2 inhibitors, may reduce a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Preventive surgery. Current clinical trials are looking at surgery to remove the fallopian tubes and/or ovaries before disease starts (called prophylatic surgery) as a way to reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.

Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. Although no targeted therapies are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for ovarian cancer, there are several including bevacizumab (Avastin) and olaparib (AZD-2281) that have some documented significant clinical activity, alone or in combination with other drugs. Many new targeted treatments are also now in clinical trials. Increasingly, doctors are learning about each patient’s individual tumor's biology through direct molecular testing. This information may be useful in matching patients with a clinical trial for a specific targeted therapy. Learn more about targeted therapy.

Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (also called biologic therapy) is designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to bolster, target, or restore immune system function. Researchers are examining whether immunotherapy drugs, such as interferon, may boost the immune system's ability to kill cancer cells. Cancer vaccines are another type of immunotherapy currently being tested for ovarian cancer. Other immunotherapies are being developed to target specific immune cells that may

be helping cancer cells survive. Learn more about immunotherapy.

Hormone therapy. Research is underway about the role of estrogen and other hormones in ovarian cancer treatment, including the use of tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors in the treatment of recurrent or later-stage ovarian cancer.

Gene therapy. One promising area of research is discovering how damaged genes in ovarian cancer cells can be corrected or replaced. Researchers are studying the use of specially designed viruses that carry normal genes into the core of cancer cells and then replace the defective genes with the functional ones.

Supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current ovarian cancer treatments, in order to improve a woman’s comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More about the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding ovarian cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section addresses how to cope with the symptoms of the disease or the side effects of its treatment. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select Coping with Side Effects, or you can select another section, to continue reading this guide.