Major breakthrough in ovarian cancer research Australia (Brisbane Times) — Andreas Obermair regularly witnesses the sheer, heartbreaking terror a woman experiences when he tells her she has ovarian cancer.Dubbed the silent killer, it currently claims the lives of about three in five sufferers, while another gynaecological disease, uterine cancer, kills one in four sufferers.“What gets me really is waste of life. I see a lot of women who have ovarian cancer and it is a bad disease,” Professor Obermair, research director at the Queensland Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, said.
So, he went looking for a way to stem the waste.
Little did he realise he was on the cusp of an international medical breakthrough.
“I am a gynaecological oncologist and I frequently see patients with ovarian and uterine cancer and very often they have had breast cancer in the past,” he said.
“The time lag between breast and ovarian cancer can be very long and that was originally the motivation for this study.”
Professor Obermair and his research team decided to examine the link.
‘We looked at data from 1997 to 2008 from 21,000 women from Queensland diagnosed
with breast cancer in that time,” he said.
“We wanted to explore if women who had breast cancer, if they happened to have a hysterectomy or their ovaries taken out, had that had any effect on the chance of developing gynaecological cancer.”
The discovery was resounding.
Not a single woman who had her reproductive organs removed in that time went on to develop a gynaecological cancer.
Conversely, for those breast cancer survivors who had not undergone either procedure, the risk of developing ovarian cancer grew by 40 per cent and uterine cancer 150 per cent.
Not only that, with the consequential reduction in estrogen load, Professor Obermair’s team also discovered the risk of breast cancer relapse was dramatically reduced.
The results are about to be published in the prestigious International Journal of Cancer.
Professor Obermair said researchers had to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the removal of reproductive organs of women in their 30s and 40s, as there were adverse health effects from plunging patients into early menopause.
“The problem is when you remove ovaries in young women, you get side effects – these women become menopausal and can develop strokes and blood clots,” he said.
“When we take the uterus out and the ovaries, you could argue survival would be worse but you could argue they live longer because they don’t develop gynaecological cancer.
“But then by accident we found those patients live a lot longer because their breast cancer prognosis has improved because the hormonal aspect.”
Professor Obermair said the decision was a tricky one for women yet to have children that would need to be discussed on a case by case basis.
However, he said breast cancer survivors past their child bearing years, as well as their doctors, should be fully informed of the research.
“As a gynaecological surgeon obviously I’m heavily attached to women’s core concerns and doing a prophylactic operation is a great way to limit the waste,” he said.
“We really need to wake up to these things, we must say retaining the ovaries is not the most important goal, the most important goal is to survive.”
Professor Obermair now hopes the results of his three year Queensland study will be expanded internationally.