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Treatment Gives Hope For Ovarian Cancer Patients

Medical experts say it is the biggest breakthrough in more than a decade in the fight against ovarian cancer, a rare but deadly form of the disease. VOA's Paige Kollock reports on a treatment that extends patients lives, although it cannot cure them.

Approximately 22,000 American women were diagnosed with Ovarian cancer last year. The five year survival rate is about 50 percent. Ovarian cancer is so deadly because it often goes undetected until it is in its advanced stages.

However, a treatment called intraperitoneal therapy, or "IP therapy", which has now been endorsed by the National Cancer Institute, will help patients live longer.

The therapy works by pumping chemotherapy directly into the woman's abdomen with a catheter, so the drugs hit the tumor directly.

Doctor Jonathan Cosin, Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Washington Hospital Center, says the treatment can help patients live a year or more longer than those who just get intravenous, or traditional, chemotherapy.

"We're talking about the difference between 4 years and over 5 years, so percentage wise, we're talking about almost a 25% increase in survival, so that's a big chunk of time."

The IP treatment comes at a price. The treatment is very painful, and only 6 out of 10 women are able to endure the full six-month treatment regimen.

"So it's basically like emptying a 2 liter coke bottle into their abdomen ... that's kind of uncomfortable, it can cause some pain and some cramping," explained Dr. Cosin.

Pain and cramping, along with fatigue, says Linda Gainer, who has received three out of her six treatments of IP chemotherapy.

"It's fatigue like I've never experienced,” says Linda. “It's fatigue that you can't lay down and sleep for 30 minutes and then recoup and get a second burst of energy."

Gainer was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in October, which is similar to ovarian cancer in that it affects the same area. Her doctor recommended the IP treatment.

"Common sense tells you that if these cancer cells are in my abdomen, and if you can put chemo into my abdomen, and the concentration is a 1,000 times greater than what you could if you were putting it through an IV, the chances that its going to get to a lot more of those cancer cells just made a lot of sense," she says.

She is one of the lucky ones. Other women who have received the treatment have had worse pain.

Doctors say the next step is to eliminate the intolerable side effects, and to make the treatment more widely available in hospitals throughout the world.