Local researchers fight silent killer of women

Local researchers are leading the way in the fight against ovarian cancer.

Westmead Millennium Institute researchers are trying to discover how to help patients with the disease who don't respond to chemotherapy treatment.

The institute's chair of translational cancer research, Anna deFazio, said now was an exciting time in ovarian cancer research.

If her team can discover the molecular difference between patients who respond to chemotherapy and those who don't, they'll have made a significant breakthrough in treatment of the cancer.

This isn't the only new ground the institute is treading. For the first time in Australia, researchers are working directly with the surgeons and doctors treating patients with ovarian cancer.

"We're translating findings from the lab into changes in clinical care and translating questions from clinical care into things we can investigate in the lab," Professor deFazio, who has worked at Westmead Hospital for close to a decade, said.

Westmead Hospital sees 50 to 100 new patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year.

Professor deFazio said the survival rate of people with ovarian cancer is 40 per cent, half that of breast cancer.

"It's a very aggressive cancer. It seems to go from nothing to full stage three," Professor deFazio said. "There's no anatomical barriers, the cancer has direct access to the body. It's really hard to get it out and it can just spread really rapidly."

Detecting the cancer early can be difficult, with symptoms such as difficulty eating or feeling full, needing to urinate often or urgently and bloating, often overlooked by women.

There isn't any one test that can be used to diagnose ovarian cancer. While doctors use a blood test and ultrasound to make a diagnosis, surgery is the only definite way to diagnose ovarian cancer.

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