Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

As a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a core part of our mission is to educate patients and the community about cancer. The following summary is trusted information from the NCI.

General Information About Ovarian Epithelial Cancer

Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)

Incidence and Mortality

Estimated new cases and deaths from ovarian cancer in the United States in 2011:

  • New cases: 21,990.
  • Deaths: 15,460.

Several malignancies arise from the ovary. Epithelial carcinoma of the ovary is one of the most common gynecologic malignancies and the fifth most frequent cause of cancer death in women, with 50% of all cases occurring in women older than 65 years. Approximately 5% to 10% of ovarian cancers are familial, and three distinct hereditary patterns have been identified: ovarian cancer alone, ovarian and breast cancers, or ovarian and colon cancers. The most important risk factor for ovarian cancer is a family history of a first-degree relative (e.g., mother, daughter, or sister) with the disease. The highest risk appears in women with two or more first-degree relatives with ovarian cancer. The risk is somewhat less for women with one first-degree and one second-degree relative (grandmother or aunt) with ovarian cancer.

In most families affected with the breast and ovarian cancer syndrome or site-specific ovarian cancer, genetic linkage has been found to the BRCA1 locus on chromosome 17q21. BRCA2, also responsible for some instances of inherited ovarian and breast cancer, has been mapped by genetic linkage to chromosome 13q12. The lifetime risk for developing ovarian cancer in patients harboring germline mutations in BRCA1 is substantially increased over the general population. Two retrospective studies of patients with germline mutations in BRCA1 suggest that these women have improved survival compared with BRCA1 mutation-negative women.[Level of evidence: 3iiiA] The majority of women with a BRCA1 mutation probably have family members with a history of ovarian and/or breast cancer; therefore, these women may have been more vigilant and inclined to participate in cancer screening programs that may have led to earlier detection.

For women at increased risk, prophylactic oophorectomy may be considered after the age of 35 if childbearing is complete. In a family-based study among women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, of the 259 women who had undergone bilateral prophylactic oophorectomy, two of them (0.8%) developed subsequent papillary serous peritoneal carcinoma, and six of them (2.8%) had stage I ovarian cancer at the time of surgery. Of the 292 matched controls, 20% who did not have prophylactic surgery developed ovarian cancer. Prophylactic surgery was associated with a higher than 90% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer (relative risk [RR] = 0.04; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.01–0.16), with an average follow-up of 9 years; however, family-based studies may be associated with biases resulting from case selection and other factors that may influence the estimate of benefit. (Refer to the Evidence of Benefit section in the PDQ summary on Ovarian Cancer Prevention for more information.) After a prophylactic oophorectomy, a small percentage of women may develop a primary peritoneal carcinoma, similar in appearance to ovarian cancer. The prognostic information presented below deals only with epithelial carcinomas. Stromal and germ cell tumors are relatively uncommon and comprise less than 10% of cases. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Ovarian Germ Cell Tumor Treatment and Ovarian Low Malignant Potential Tumor Treatment for more information.)

Ovarian cancer usually spreads via local shedding into the peritoneal cavity followed by implantation on the peritoneum and via local invasion of bowel and bladder. The incidence of positive nodes at primary surgery has been reported to be as much as 24% in patients with stage I disease, 50% in patients with stage II disease, 74% in patients with stage III disease, and 73% in patients with stage IV disease. In this study, the pelvic nodes were involved as often as the para-aortic nodes. Tumor cells may also block diaphragmatic lymphatics. The resulting impairment of lymphatic drainage of the peritoneum is thought to play a role in development of ascites in ovarian cancer. Also, transdiaphragmatic spread to the pleura is common.

Prognosis in ovarian cancer is influenced by several factors, but multivariate analyses suggest that the most important favorable factors include:

  • Younger age.
  • Good performance status.
  • Cell type other than mucinous and clear cell.
  • Lower stage.
  • Well-differentiated tumor.
  • Smaller disease volume prior to any surgical debulking.
  • Absence of ascites.
  • Smaller residual tumor following primary cytoreductive surgery.

For patients with stage I disease, the most important prognostic factor is grade, followed by dense adherence and large-volume ascites. DNA flow cytometric analysis of stage I and stage IIA patients may identify a group of high-risk patients. Patients with clear cell histology appear to have a worse prognosis. Patients with a significant component of transitional cell carcinoma appear to have a better prognosis.

Although the ovarian cancer-associated antigen, CA 125, has no prognostic significance when measured at the time of diagnosis, it has a high correlation with survival when measured 1 month after the third course of chemotherapy for patients with stage III or stage IV disease. For patients whose elevated CA 125 normalizes with chemotherapy, more than one subsequent elevated CA 125 measurement is highly predictive of active disease, but this does not mandate immediate therapy.

Most patients with ovarian cancer have widespread disease at presentation. This may be partly explained by relatively early spread (and implantation) of high-grade papillary serous cancers to the rest of the peritoneal cavity. Conversely, symptoms such as abdominal pain and swelling, gastrointestinal symptoms, and pelvic pain often go unrecognized, leading to delays in diagnosis. (Refer to the PDQ summaries on Pain and Gastrointestinal Complications for more information.) As a result of these confounding factors, yearly mortality in ovarian cancer is approximately 65% of the incidence rate. Long-term follow-up of suboptimally debulked stage III and stage IV patients showed a 5-year survival rate of less than 10% with platinum-based combination therapy prior to the current generation of trials including taxanes. By contrast, optimally debulked stage III patients treated with a combination of intravenous taxane and intraperitoneal platinum plus taxane achieved a median survival of 66 months in a Gynecologic Oncology Group trial. Numerous clinical trials are in progress to refine existing therapy and test the value of different approaches to postoperative drug and radiation therapy. Patients with any stage of ovarian cancer are appropriate candidates for clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Related Summaries

Other PDQ summaries containing information related to ovarian epithelial cancer include the following:

References:
  • American Cancer Society.: Cancer Facts and Figures 2011. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society, 2011. Also available online. Last accessed July 27, 2011.
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  • Piver MS, Goldberg JM, Tsukada Y, et al.: Characteristics of familial ovarian cancer: a report of the first 1,000 families in the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. Eur J Gynaecol Oncol 17 (3): 169-76, 1996.
  • Miki Y, Swensen J, Shattuck-Eidens D, et al.: A strong candidate for the breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1. Science 266 (5182): 66-71, 1994.
  • Easton DF, Bishop DT, Ford D, et al.: Genetic linkage analysis in familial breast and ovarian cancer: results from 214 families. The Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Am J Hum Genet 52 (4): 678-701, 1993.
  • Steichen-Gersdorf E, Gallion HH, Ford D, et al.: Familial site-specific ovarian cancer is linked to BRCA1 on 17q12-21. Am J Hum Genet 55 (5): 870-5, 1994.
  • Wooster R, Neuhausen SL, Mangion J, et al.: Localization of a breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, to chromosome 13q12-13. Science 265 (5181): 2088-90, 1994.
  • Easton DF, Ford D, Bishop DT: Breast and ovarian cancer incidence in BRCA1-mutation carriers. Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium. Am J Hum Genet 56 (1): 265-71, 1995.
  • Struewing JP, Hartge P, Wacholder S, et al.: The risk of cancer associated with specific mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 among Ashkenazi Jews. N Engl J Med 336 (20): 1401-8, 1997.
  • Rubin SC, Benjamin I, Behbakht K, et al.: Clinical and pathological features of ovarian cancer in women with germ-line mutations of BRCA1. N Engl J Med 335 (19): 1413-6, 1996.
  • Aida H, Takakuwa K, Nagata H, et al.: Clinical features of ovarian cancer in Japanese women with germ-line mutations of BRCA1. Clin Cancer Res 4 (1): 235-40, 1998.
  • Rebbeck TR, Lynch HT, Neuhausen SL, et al.: Prophylactic oophorectomy in carriers of BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. N Engl J Med 346 (21): 1616-22, 2002.
  • Klaren HM, van't Veer LJ, van Leeuwen FE, et al.: Potential for bias in studies on efficacy of prophylactic surgery for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (13): 941-7, 2003.
  • Piver MS, Jishi MF, Tsukada Y, et al.: Primary peritoneal carcinoma after prophylactic oophorectomy in women with a family history of ovarian cancer. A report of the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. Cancer 71 (9): 2751-5, 1993.
  • Burghardt E, Girardi F, Lahousen M, et al.: Patterns of pelvic and paraaortic lymph node involvement in ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 40 (2): 103-6, 1991.
  • Omura GA, Brady MF, Homesley HD, et al.: Long-term follow-up and prognostic factor analysis in advanced ovarian carcinoma: the Gynecologic Oncology Group experience. J Clin Oncol 9 (7): 1138-50, 1991.
  • van Houwelingen JC, ten Bokkel Huinink WW, van der Burg ME, et al.: Predictability of the survival of patients with advanced ovarian cancer. J Clin Oncol 7 (6): 769-73, 1989.
  • Neijt JP, ten Bokkel Huinink WW, van der Burg ME, et al.: Long-term survival in ovarian cancer. Mature data from The Netherlands Joint Study Group for Ovarian Cancer. Eur J Cancer 27 (11): 1367-72, 1991.
  • Hoskins WJ, Bundy BN, Thigpen JT, et al.: The influence of cytoreductive surgery on recurrence-free interval and survival in small-volume stage III epithelial ovarian cancer: a Gynecologic Oncology Group study. Gynecol Oncol 47 (2): 159-66, 1992.
  • Thigpen T, Brady MF, Omura GA, et al.: Age as a prognostic factor in ovarian carcinoma. The Gynecologic Oncology Group experience. Cancer 71 (2 Suppl): 606-14, 1993.
  • Dembo AJ, Davy M, Stenwig AE, et al.: Prognostic factors in patients with stage I epithelial ovarian cancer. Obstet Gynecol 75 (2): 263-73, 1990.
  • Schueler JA, Cornelisse CJ, Hermans J, et al.: Prognostic factors in well-differentiated early-stage epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer 71 (3): 787-95, 1993.
  • Young RC, Walton LA, Ellenberg SS, et al.: Adjuvant therapy in stage I and stage II epithelial ovarian cancer. Results of two prospective randomized trials. N Engl J Med 322 (15): 1021-7, 1990.
  • Gershenson DM, Silva EG, Mitchell MF, et al.: Transitional cell carcinoma of the ovary: a matched control study of advanced-stage patients treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Am J Obstet Gynecol 168 (4): 1178-85; discussion 1185-7, 1993.
  • Mogensen O: Prognostic value of CA 125 in advanced ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 44 (3): 207-12, 1992.
  • Högberg T, KŒgedal B: Long-term follow-up of ovarian cancer with monthly determinations of serum CA 125. Gynecol Oncol 46 (2): 191-8, 1992.
  • Rustin GJ, Nelstrop AE, Tuxen MK, et al.: Defining progression of ovarian carcinoma during follow-up according to CA 125: a North Thames Ovary Group Study. Ann Oncol 7 (4): 361-4, 1996.
  • Hogg R, Friedlander M: Biology of epithelial ovarian cancer: implications for screening women at high genetic risk. J Clin Oncol 22 (7): 1315-27, 2004.
  • Goff BA, Mandel L, Muntz HG, et al.: Ovarian carcinoma diagnosis. Cancer 89 (10): 2068-75, 2000.
  • Friedman GD, Skilling JS, Udaltsova NV, et al.: Early symptoms of ovarian cancer: a case-control study without recall bias. Fam Pract 22 (5): 548-53, 2005.
  • Smith LH, Morris CR, Yasmeen S, et al.: Ovarian cancer: can we make the clinical diagnosis earlier? Cancer 104 (7): 1398-407, 2005.
  • Armstrong DK, Bundy B, Wenzel L, et al.: Intraperitoneal cisplatin and paclitaxel in ovarian cancer. N Engl J Med 354 (1): 34-43, 2006.
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Cellular Classification of Ovarian Epithelial Cancer

The following is a list of ovarian epithelial cancer histologic classifications.

  • Serous cystomas:
    • Serous benign cystadenomas.
    • Serous cystadenomas with proliferating activity of the epithelial cells and nuclear abnormalities but with no infiltrative destructive growth (low potential or borderline malignancy).
    • Serous cystadenocarcinomas.
  • Mucinous cystomas:
    • Mucinous benign cystadenomas.
    • Mucinous cystadenomas with proliferating activity of the epithelial cells and nuclear abnormalities but with no infiltrative destructive growth (low potential or borderline malignancy).
    • Mucinous cystadenocarcinomas.
  • Endometrioid tumors (similar to adenocarcinomas in the endometrium):
    • Endometrioid benign cysts.
    • Endometrioid tumors with proliferating activity of the epithelial cells and nuclear abnormalities but with no infiltrative destructive growth (low malignant potential or borderline malignancy).
    • Endometrioid adenocarcinomas.
  • Clear cell (mesonephroid) tumors:
    • Benign clear cell tumors.
    • Clear cell tumors with proliferating activity of the epithelial cells and nuclear abnormalities but with no infiltrative destructive growth (low malignant potential or borderline malignancy).
    • Clear cell cystadenocarcinomas.
  • Unclassified tumors that cannot be allotted to one of the above groups.
  • No histology.
  • Other malignant tumors (malignant tumors other than those of the common epithelial types are not to be included with the categories listed above).

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Ovarian Low Malignant Potential Tumor Treatment for more information.)

Stage Information for Ovarian Epithelial Cancer

In the absence of extra-abdominal metastatic disease, definitive staging of ovarian cancer requires laparotomy. The role of surgery in patients with stage IV disease and extra-abdominal disease is yet to be established. If disease appears to be limited to the ovaries or pelvis, it is essential at laparotomy to examine and biopsy or to obtain cytologic brushings of the diaphragm, both paracolic gutters, the pelvic peritoneum, para-aortic and pelvic nodes, and infracolic omentum, and to obtain peritoneal washings.

The serum CA 125 level is valuable in the follow-up and restaging of patients who have elevated CA 125 levels at the time of diagnosis. While an elevated CA 125 level indicates a high probability of epithelial ovarian cancer, a negative CA 125 level cannot be used to exclude the presence of residual disease. CA 125 levels can also be elevated in other malignancies and benign gynecologic problems such as endometriosis, and CA 125 levels should be used with a histologic diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer.

Definitions of TNM and FIGO

The American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) and the Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique (FIGO) have designated staging to define ovarian epithelial cancer. The definitions of the AJCC's T, N, and M categories correspond to the stages accepted by FIGO. Both systems are included for comparison.

Table 1. Primary Tumor (T)a,bTNM CategoriesFIGO StagesFIGO = Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique. aReprinted with permission from AJCC: Ovary and primary peritoneal carcinoma. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 419-28.bLiver capsule metastasis T3/stage III; liver parenchymal metastasis M1/stage IV. Pleural effusion must have positive cytology for M1/stage IV.TXPrimary tumor cannot be assessed.T0No evidence of primary tumor.T1Tumor limited to ovaries (one or both).T1aIATumor limited to one ovary; capsule intact, no tumor on ovarian surface. No malignant cells in ascites or peritoneal washings.T1bIBTumor limited to both ovaries; capsules intact, no tumor on ovarian surface. No malignant cells in ascites or peritoneal washings.T1cICTumor limited to one or both ovaries with any of the following: capsule ruptured, tumor on ovarian surface, malignant cells in ascites or peritoneal washings.T2IITumor involves one or both ovaries with pelvic extension.T2aIIAExtension to and/or implants on uterus and/or tube(s). No malignant cells in ascites or peritoneal washings.T2bIIBExtension to and/or implants on other pelvic tissues. No malignant cells in ascites or peritoneal washings.T2cIICPelvic extension and/or implants (T2a or T2b) with malignant cells in ascites or peritoneal washings.T3IIITumor involves one or both ovaries with microscopically confirmed peritoneal metastasis outside the pelvis.T3aIIIAMicroscopic peritoneal metastasis beyond pelvis (no macroscopic tumor).T3bIIIBMacroscopic peritoneal metastasis beyond pelvis ≤2 cm in greatest dimension.T3cIIICPeritoneal metastasis beyond pelvis >2 cm in greatest dimension and/or regional lymph node metastasis.Table 2. Regional Lymph Nodes (N)aTNM CategoriesFIGO StagesFIGO = Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique. aReprinted with permission from AJCC: Ovary and primary peritoneal carcinoma. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 419-28.NXRegional lymph nodes cannot be assessed.N0No regional lymph node metastasis.N1IIICRegional lymph node metastasis.Table 3. Distant Metastasis (M)aTNM CategoriesFIGO StagesFIGO = Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique. aReprinted with permission from AJCC: Ovary and primary peritoneal carcinoma. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 419-28.M0No distant metastasis.M1IVDistant metastasis (excludes peritoneal metastasis).Table 4. Anatomic Stage/Prognostic GroupsaStageTNMaReprinted with permission from AJCC: Ovary and primary peritoneal carcinoma. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 419-28.IT1N0M0IAT1aN0M0IBT1bN0M0 ICT1cN0M0IIT2N0M 0IIAT2aN0M0IIBT2bN0M0IICT2cN0M0IIIT3N0M0 IIIAT3aN0M0IIIBT3bN0M0IIICT3cN0M0Any TN1M0IVAny TAny NM1Table 5. Carcinoma of the OvaryaStageaAdapted from FIGO Committee on Gynecologic Oncology.bIn order to evaluate the impact on prognosis of the different criteria for allotting cases to stage Ic or IIc, it would be of value to know if rupture of the capsule was spontaneous, or caused by the surgeon; and if the source of malignant cells detected was peritoneal washings, or ascites.IGrowth limited to the ovaries.IaGrowth limited to one ovary; no ascites present containing malignant cells. No tumor on the external surface; capsule intact.IbGrowth limited to both ovaries; no ascites present containing malignant cells. No tumor on the external surfaces; capsules intact.IcbTumor either stage Ia or Ib, but with tumor on surface of one or both ovaries, or with capsule ruptured, or with ascites present containing malignant cells, or with positive peritoneal washings.IIGrowth involving one or both ovaries with pelvic extension.IIaExtension and/or metastases to the uterus and/or tubes.IIbExtension to other pelvic tissues.IIcbTumor either stage IIa or IIb, but with tumor on surface of one or both ovaries, or with capsule(s) ruptured, or with ascites present containing malignant cells, or with positive peritoneal washings.IIITumor involving one or both ovaries with histologically confirmed peritoneal implants outside the pelvis and/or positive regional lymph nodes. Superficial liver metastases equals stage III. Tumor is limited to the true pelvis, but with histologically proven malignant extension to small bowel or omentum.IIIaTumor grossly limited to the true pelvis, with negative nodes, but with histologically confirmed microscopic seeding of abdominal peritoneal surfaces, or histologic proven extension to small bowel or mesentery.IIIbTumor of one or both ovaries with histologically confirmed implants, peritoneal metastasis of abdominal peritoneal surfaces, none exceeding 2 cm in diameter; nodes are negative.IIIcPeritoneal metastasis beyond the pelvis >2 cm in diameter and/or positive regional lymph nodes.IVGrowth involving one or both ovaries with distant metastases. If pleural effusion is present, there must be positive cytology to allot a case to stage IV. Parenchymal liver metastasis equals stage IV. References:
  • Hoskins WJ: Surgical staging and cytoreductive surgery of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer 71 (4 Suppl): 1534-40, 1993.
  • Mogensen O: Prognostic value of CA 125 in advanced ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 44 (3): 207-12, 1992.
  • Högberg T, KŒgedal B: Long-term follow-up of ovarian cancer with monthly determinations of serum CA 125. Gynecol Oncol 46 (2): 191-8, 1992.
  • Rustin GJ, Nelstrop AE, Tuxen MK, et al.: Defining progression of ovarian carcinoma during follow-up according to CA 125: a North Thames Ovary Group Study. Ann Oncol 7 (4): 361-4, 1996.
  • Makar AP, Kristensen GB, Børmer OP, et al.: CA 125 measured before second-look laparotomy is an independent prognostic factor for survival in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol 45 (3): 323-8, 1992.
  • Berek JS, Knapp RC, Malkasian GD, et al.: CA 125 serum levels correlated with second-look operations among ovarian cancer patients. Obstet Gynecol 67 (5): 685-9, 1986.
  • Atack DB, Nisker JA, Allen HH, et al.: CA 125 surveillance and second-look laparotomy in ovarian carcinoma. Am J Obstet Gynecol 154 (2): 287-9, 1986.
  • Ovary and primary peritoneal carcinoma. In: Edge SB, Byrd DR, Compton CC, et al., eds.: AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer, 2010, pp 419-23.
  • Shepherd JH: Revised FIGO staging for gynaecological cancer. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 96 (8): 889-92, 1989.
  • Prat J: FIGO staging for uterine sarcomas. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 104 (3): 177-8, 2009.

Stage I and Stage II Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment

Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)

Treatment options:

  1. If the tumor is well differentiated or moderately well differentiated, total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy with omentectomy is adequate for patients with stage IA and stage IB disease. The undersurface of the diaphragm should be visualized and biopsied; pelvic and abdominal peritoneal biopsies and pelvic and para-aortic lymph node biopsies are required and peritoneal washings should be obtained routinely. In selected patients who desire childbearing and have grade I tumors, unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy may be associated with a low risk of recurrence.
  2. If the tumor is grade III, densely adherent, or stage IC, the chance of relapse and death from ovarian cancer is as much as 30%. Clinical trials evaluating the following treatment approaches have been performed:Intraperitoneal P-32 or radiation therapy. Systemic chemotherapy based on platinums alone or in combination with alkylating agents. Systemic chemotherapy based on platinums with paclitaxel.

In two large European trials, European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Adjuvant ChemoTherapy in Ovarian Neoplasm (EORTC-ACTION) and International Collaborative Ovarian Neoplasm (MRC-ICON1), patients with stage IA and stage IB (grades II and III), all stage IC and stage II, and all stage I and stage IIA clear cell carcinoma were randomly assigned to adjuvant chemotherapy or observation. Data were reported individually and in pooled form.

The EORTC-ACTION trial required at least four cycles of carboplatin or cisplatin-based chemotherapy as treatment. Although surgical staging criteria were monitored, inadequate staging was not an exclusion criterion. Recurrence-free survival (RFS) was improved in the adjuvant chemotherapy arm (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.63; P = .02), but overall survival (OS) was not affected (HR = 0.69; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.44–1.08; P = .10). OS was improved by chemotherapy in the subset of patients with inadequate surgical staging.

The MRC-ICON1 trial randomly assigned patients to six cycles of single-agent carboplatin or cisplatin or platinum-based chemotherapy (usually cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, and cisplatin) versus observation and had similar entry criteria to the EORTC-ACTION trial, however, the MRC-ICON1 trial did not monitor whether adequate surgical staging was performed. Both RFS and OS were significantly improved; 5-year survival figures were 79% with adjuvant chemotherapy versus 70% without adjuvant chemotherapy.

The pooled data from both studies indicate significant improvement in RFS (HR = 0.64; 95% CI, 0.50–0.82; P = .001) and OS (HR = 0.67; 95% CI, 0.50–0.90; P = .008). These pooled data provide for an OS at 5 years of 82% with chemotherapy and 74% with observation, with a 95% CI in the difference of 2% to 12%. An accompanying editorial emphasizes that the focus of subsequent trials must be to identify patients who do not require additional therapy among the early ovarian cancer subset.[Level of evidence: 1iA] Optimal staging is one way to better identify these patients. Except for the most favorable subset (patients with stage IA well-differentiated disease), Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) trials, and the evidence above, which is based on double-blinded, randomized controlled trials with total mortality endpoints, support treatment with cisplatin, carboplatin, and paclitaxel (in the United States).

In future trials, the Ovarian Committee of the GOG has opted to include patients with stage II disease in advanced ovarian cancer trials and not to include further study of patients with stage I disease at this time.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I ovarian epithelial cancer and stage II ovarian epithelial cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

References:
  • Young RC, Decker DG, Wharton JT, et al.: Staging laparotomy in early ovarian cancer. JAMA 250 (22): 3072-6, 1983.
  • Zanetta G, Chiari S, Rota S, et al.: Conservative surgery for stage I ovarian carcinoma in women of childbearing age. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 104 (9): 1030-5, 1997.
  • Dembo AJ, Davy M, Stenwig AE, et al.: Prognostic factors in patients with stage I epithelial ovarian cancer. Obstet Gynecol 75 (2): 263-73, 1990.
  • Ahmed FY, Wiltshaw E, A'Hern RP, et al.: Natural history and prognosis of untreated stage I epithelial ovarian carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 14 (11): 2968-75, 1996.
  • Monga M, Carmichael JA, Shelley WE, et al.: Surgery without adjuvant chemotherapy for early epithelial ovarian carcinoma after comprehensive surgical staging. Gynecol Oncol 43 (3): 195-7, 1991.
  • Kolomainen DF, A'Hern R, Coxon FY, et al.: Can patients with relapsed, previously untreated, stage I epithelial ovarian cancer be successfully treated with salvage therapy? J Clin Oncol 21 (16): 3113-8, 2003.
  • Vergote IB, Vergote-De Vos LN, Abeler VM, et al.: Randomized trial comparing cisplatin with radioactive phosphorus or whole-abdomen irradiation as adjuvant treatment of ovarian cancer. Cancer 69 (3): 741-9, 1992.
  • Piver MS, Lele SB, Bakshi S, et al.: Five and ten year estimated survival and disease-free rates after intraperitoneal chromic phosphate; stage I ovarian adenocarcinoma. Am J Clin Oncol 11 (5): 515-9, 1988.
  • Bolis G, Colombo N, Pecorelli S, et al.: Adjuvant treatment for early epithelial ovarian cancer: results of two randomised clinical trials comparing cisplatin to no further treatment or chromic phosphate (32P). G.I.C.O.G.: Gruppo Interregionale Collaborativo in Ginecologia Oncologica. Ann Oncol 6 (9): 887-93, 1995.
  • Piver MS, Malfetano J, Baker TR, et al.: Five-year survival for stage IC or stage I grade 3 epithelial ovarian cancer treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy. Gynecol Oncol 46 (3): 357-60, 1992.
  • McGuire WP: Early ovarian cancer: treat now, later or never? Ann Oncol 6 (9): 865-6, 1995.
  • Trimbos JB, Parmar M, Vergote I, et al.: International Collaborative Ovarian Neoplasm trial 1 and Adjuvant ChemoTherapy In Ovarian Neoplasm trial: two parallel randomized phase III trials of adjuvant chemotherapy in patients with early-stage ovarian carcinoma. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 105-12, 2003.
  • Trimbos JB, Vergote I, Bolis G, et al.: Impact of adjuvant chemotherapy and surgical staging in early-stage ovarian carcinoma: European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Adjuvant ChemoTherapy in Ovarian Neoplasm trial. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 113-25, 2003.
  • Colombo N, Guthrie D, Chiari S, et al.: International Collaborative Ovarian Neoplasm trial 1: a randomized trial of adjuvant chemotherapy in women with early-stage ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 125-32, 2003.
  • Young RC: Early-stage ovarian cancer: to treat or not to treat. J Natl Cancer Inst 95 (2): 94-5, 2003.

Stage III and Stage IV Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment

Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)

Treatment options for patients with all stages of ovarian epithelial cancer have consisted of surgery followed by chemotherapy.

Surgery

Patients diagnosed with stage III and stage IV disease are treated with surgery and chemotherapy; however, the outcome is generally less favorable for patients with stage IV disease. The role of surgery for patients with stage IV disease is unclear, but in most instances, the bulk of the disease is intra-abdominal, and surgical procedures similar to those used in the management of patients with stage III disease are applied. The options for intraperitoneal (IP) regimens are also less likely to apply both practically (as far as inserting an IP catheter at the outset) and theoretically (aimed at destroying microscopic disease in the peritoneal cavity) in patients with stage IV disease.

Surgery has been used as a therapeutic modality and also to adequately stage the disease. Surgery should include total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy with omentectomy and debulking of as much gross tumor as can safely be performed. While primary cytoreductive surgery may not correct for biologic characteristics of the tumor, considerable evidence indicates that the volume of disease left at the completion of the primary surgical procedure is related to patient survival. A literature review showed that patients with optimal cytoreduction had a median survival of 39 months compared with survival of only 17 months in patients with suboptimal residual disease.[Level of evidence: 3iA] Results of a retrospective analysis of 349 patients with postoperative residual masses no larger than 1 cm suggested that patients who present at the outset with large-volume disease and achieve small-volume disease by surgical debulking have poorer outcomes than similar patients who present with small-volume disease. Gradual improvement in survival with decreasing residual tumor volume is likely. Although the association may not be causal, retrospective analyses, including a meta-analysis of patients receiving platinum-based chemotherapy, have found cytoreduction to be an independent prognostic variable for survival.

A study led by the European Organization for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Gynecological Cancer Group, together with the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) Clinical Trials Group (EORTC-55971) between 1998 and 2006 included 670 women with stage IIIC and IV ovarian, tubal, and primary peritoneal cancers. The women were randomly assigned to primary debulking surgery followed by at least six courses of platinum-based chemotherapy or to three courses of neoadjuvant platinum-based chemotherapy followed by so-called interval debulking surgery, and at least three more courses of platinum-based chemotherapy. Methods included efforts to ensure accuracy of diagnosis (vis-à-vis peritoneal carcinomatosis of gastrointestinal origin) and stratification by largest preoperative tumor size (excluding ovaries) (<5 cm, >5 cm–10 cm, >10 cm–20 cm, or >20 cm). Other stratification factors were for institution, method of biopsy (i.e., image-guided, laparoscopy, laparotomy, or fine-needle aspiration), and tumor stage (i.e., stages IIIC or IV). The primary endpoint of the study was overall survival (OS), with primary debulking surgery considered the standard.

Median OS for the primary debulking surgery was 29 months, compared with 30 months for patients assigned to neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The hazard ratio (HR) for death in the group assigned to neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by interval debulking, as compared with the group assigned to primary debulking surgery followed by chemotherapy, was 0.98 (90% confidence interval [CI], 0.84–1.13; P = .01 for noninferiority).[Level of evidence: 1iiA] Perioperative and postoperative morbidity and mortality were higher in the primary-surgery group (7.4% severe hemorrhage and 2.5% deaths, contrasting with 4.1% severe hemorrhage and 0.7% deaths in the neoadjuvant group). The strongest independent predictor of prolonged survival was the absence of residual tumor after surgery. The subset of patients achieving optimal cytoreduction (≤1 cm residuum) whether after primary debulking surgery or after neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by interval debulking surgery had the best median OS.

For the past 3 decades, the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) has conducted separate trials for women whose disease has been optimally cytoreduced (most recently defined as ≤1 cm residuum) and for those who had suboptimal cytoreductions (>1 cm residuum). The extent of residual disease following the initial surgery is a determinant of outcome in most series and has been used in the design of clinical trials, particularly by the GOG.

On the basis of these findings, the standard treatment approaches are subdivided into the following:

  1. Treatment options for patients with optimally cytoreduced stage III disease.
  2. Treatment options for patients with suboptimally cytoreduced stage III and stage IV disease.

Treatment Options for Patients With Optimally Cytoreduced Stage III Disease

IP chemotherapy

The pharmacologic basis for the delivery of anticancer drugs by the IP route was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When several drugs were studied, mostly in the setting of minimal residual disease at reassessment after patients had received their initial chemotherapy, cisplatin alone and in combination received the most attention. Favorable outcomes from IP cisplatin were most often seen when tumors had shown responsiveness to platinums and with small-volume tumors (usually defined as tumors <1 cm). In the 1990s, randomized trials were conducted to evaluate whether the IP route would prove superior to the intravenous route. IP cisplatin was the common denominator of these randomized trials.

The use of IP cisplatin as part of the initial up-front approach in patients with stage III optimally debulked ovarian cancer is supported principally by the results of three randomized clinical trials (SWOG-8501, GOG-0114, and GOG-0172). These studies tested the role of IP drugs (IP cisplatin in all three studies and IP paclitaxel in the last study) against the standard IV regimen. In the three studies, superior progression-free survival (PFS) and OS favoring the IP arm was documented. Specifically, the most recent study, GOG-0172, resulted in a median survival rate of 66 months for patients on the IP arm versus 50 months for patients who received IV administration of cisplatin and paclitaxel (P = .03).[Level of evidence:1iiA] Toxic effects were greater in the IP arm, contributed to in large part by the cisplatin dose per cycle (100 mg/m2) and by sensory neuropathy from the additional IP as well as from the IV administration of paclitaxel. The rate of completion of six cycles of treatment was also less frequent in the IP arm (42% vs. 83%) because of the toxic effects and catheter-related problems.

Notwithstanding these problems, IP therapy for patients with optimally debulked ovarian cancer is receiving wider adoption, and efforts are under way by the GOG to examine some modifications of the IP regimen used in GOG-0172 to improve its tolerability (e.g., to reduce by ≥25% the total 3-hour amount of cisplatin given; a shift from the less practical 24-hour IV administration of paclitaxel to a 3-hour IV administration). A Cochrane-sponsored meta-analysis of all randomized IP versus IV trials shows an HR of 0.79 for disease-free survival and 0.79 for OS, favoring the IP arms. In another meta-analysis of seven IP versus IV randomized trials that were conducted by Cancer Care of Ontario, the relative ratio (RR) of progression at 5 years based on the three trials that reported this endpoint was 0.91 (95% CI, 0.85–0.98) and the RR of death at 5 years based on six trials was 0.88 (95% CI, 0.81–0.95).

Treatment Options for Patients With Suboptimally Cytoreduced Stage III and Stage IV Disease

Cytoreductive surgery

The value of interval cytoreductive surgery has been the subject of two large phase III trials. In the first study, performed by the EORTC, patients subjected to debulking after four cycles of cyclophosphamide and cisplatin (with additional cycles given later) had an improved survival rate compared with patients who completed six cycles of this chemotherapy without surgery.[Level of evidence: 1iiB] The GOG-0162 trial was designed to answer a very similar question but used the then-standard paclitaxel-plus-cisplatin regimen as the chemotherapy. This trial did not demonstrate any advantage from the use of interval cytoreductive surgery. The divergence of results may be caused by the efficacy of the chemotherapy obscuring any effects of interval cytoreduction, the wider use of maximal surgical effort at the time of diagnosis by U.S. gynecologic oncologists, or unknown factors. Although many patients with stage IV disease also undergo cytoreductive surgery at diagnosis, whether this improves survival has not been established.

Systemic chemotherapy

First-line treatment of ovarian cancer is cisplatin, given IV, or its second-generation analog, carboplatin, given either alone or in combination with other drugs. Clinical response rates from these drugs regularly exceed 60%, and median time-to-recurrence usually exceeds 1 year in this subset of suboptimally debulked women. Trials by various cooperative groups in the subsequent 2 decades addressed issues of optimal dose-intensity for both cisplatin and carboplatin, schedule, and the equivalent results obtained with either of these platinum drugs, usually in combination with cyclophosphamide. With the introduction of the taxane paclitaxel, two trials confirmed the superiority of cisplatin combined with paclitaxel to the previous standard of cisplatin plus cyclophosphamide; however, two trials that compared the agent with either cisplatin or carboplatin as a single agent failed to confirm such superiority in all outcome parameters (i.e., response, time-to-progression, and survival) (see Table 6).

Table 6. Paclitaxel/Platinum Combinations Versus Comparator Arms in TrialsTrialTreatment RegimensNo. of Patients % Early CrossoverProgression-free Survival (mo) Overall Survival (mo)AUC = area under the curve. ªStatistically inferior result (P < .001–< .05). GOG-132Paclitaxel (135 mg/m2, 24 h) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)20122%14.2 26.6 Cisplatin (100 mg/m2)20040%16.430.2Paclitaxel (200 mg/m2, 24 h)21323%11.2ª26 MRC-ICON3Paclitaxel (175 mg/m2, 3 h) and carboplatin AUC 647823%17.336.1Carboplatin AUC 6 94325%16.135.4Paclitaxel (175 mg/m2, 3 h) and carboplatin AUC 6 23223%1740Cyclophosphamide (750 mg/m2) and doxorubicin (75 mg/m2) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2) 42120%1740GOG-111Paclitaxel (135 mg/m2, 24 h) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)184None1838Cyclophosphamide (750 mg/m2) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)202None13ª24ªEORTC-55931Paclitaxel (175 mg/m2, 3 h) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)162None15.535.6Cyclophosphamide (750 mg/m2) and cisplatin (75 mg/m2)1614%11.5ª25.8ª

Nevertheless, for patients with ovarian cancer, the combination of cisplatin or carboplatin and paclitaxel has been used as the initial treatment (defined as induction chemotherapy) for a number of reasons:

  1. GOG-132 was regarded by many as showing that sequential treatment with cisplatin and paclitaxel was equivalent to the combination because many patients crossed over before progression; moreover, the cisplatin only arm was more toxic because it utilized a 100 mg/m2 dose.
  2. The Medical Research Council (MRC-ICON3) study, while having fewer early crossovers, could be interpreted similarly in regard to the impact on survival of sequential treatment.
  3. Data from MRC-ICON4 have shown a survival advantage for patients treated with the combination treatment regimen versus those treated with single-agent carboplatin upon recurrence (see Table 7).
  4. In past trials, single-agent platinums were not superior to platinum combined with an alkylating agent; therefore, the explanation of a detrimental effect of cyclophosphamide is unlikely.

Since the adoption of the platinum-plus-taxane combination as the standard nearly worldwide, clinical trials have demonstrated:

  • Noninferiority for carboplatin plus paclitaxel versus cisplatin plus paclitaxel.
  • Noninferiority for carboplatin plus paclitaxel versus carboplatin plus docetaxel.
  • No advantage but increased toxic effects by adding epirubicin to the carboplatin plus paclitaxel doublet.
  • Noninferiority for carboplatin plus paclitaxel versus sequential carboplatin-containing doublets with either gemcitabine or topotecan; or, triplets with the addition of gemcitabine or pegylated liposomal doxorubicin to the reference doublet as shown below:
    • From February 2001 to September 2004, the Gynecologic Cancer InterGroup trial GOG-0182 randomly assigned 4,312 women with stage III or stage IV epithelial ovarian or primary peritoneal cancer to four different experimental arms and to a reference treatment consisting of carboplatin (AUC 6) and paclitaxel (175 mg/m2) every 3 weeks for eight cycles. Stratification factors were residual-disease status and the intention to perform interval debulking surgery. Lethal events attributable to treatment occurred in less than 1% of patients without clustering to any one regimen. None of the experimental regimens were inferior. With a median duration of follow-up of 3.7 years, the adjusted relative risk of death ranged from 0.952 to 1.114, with the control arm achieving a PFS of 16.0 months and a median OS of 44.1 months. In this large study consisting of 84% to 87% of patients with the Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d'Obstétrique stage III disease, as expected, the extent of cytoreduction was an important prognostic factor in OS. Results of PFS in patients with residuum greater than 1cm, less than or equal to 1 cm, or microscopic were 13, 16, and 29 months, respectively; whereas for OS, the results were 33, 40, and 68 months, respectively.

Consolidation and/or maintenance therapy

In an effort to improve on the modest results achieved in suboptimally debulked patients (in contrast to those achieved after optimal cytoreduction and IP therapy), trials of consolidation and/or maintenance therapy have been carried out with drugs that contribute to the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer. Presently, not one of the treatments given after the initial platinum/paclitaxel induction has been shown to improve survival; these treatments include the following:

  • IP cisplatin (four cycles).
  • Yttrium-labeled radioimmunoconjugate plus IP chemotherapy.
  • IV topotecan (four cycles).
  • Oregovomab vaccination (randomized trial vs. placebo).
  • High-dose chemotherapy with hematopoietic support.
  • Monthly paclitaxel (12 cycles).

A GOG-178 study of 277 patients compared three doses versus twelve doses of monthly paclitaxel given every 4 weeks following a clinically defined complete response at the time of completion of platinum/paclitaxel induction. However, the study was stopped early because of a very significant difference in PFS (28 months vs. 21 months).[Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] Subsequent updates of this data have raised the possibility that a subset with low CA 125s might show a survival benefit. A trial to confirm the value of maintenance with taxanes versus observation is being conducted by the GOG.

A smaller Italian study entered 200 patients over 7 years who were randomly assigned to either 12 similar courses of monthly paclitaxel or observation; patients were in clinical complete response (n = 95) or pathologic complete response (n = 105) complete response after induction therapy at the time of their random assignment. Sensory neuropathy was the most prominent toxicity and was grade 2 in 21.3% of the patients and grade 3 in 6.7% of the patients. The median PFS for the maintenance paclitaxel arm was 34 months (95% CI, 20–43 months) and 30 months (95% CI, 17–53 months) for the observation arm. Neither PFS nor OS differences were significant.

An accompanying editorial points out the weaknesses of both studies in order to draw conclusions (both stopped early and were noninformative for survival endpoint). Also, although both studies addressed the issue of maintenance paclitaxel administered monthly, the patient populations differed. This was reflected by the considerably better outcome in both arms of the Italian study. Taken together, paclitaxel maintenance is of unproven value and requires validation by the ongoing and larger GOG-178 study cited above.

Treatment options under clinical evaluation:

  • Additional IP radioimmunoconjugates, vaccines, and targeted drugs are under clinical evaluation, primarily as consolidation therapy.

Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage III ovarian epithelial cancer and stage IV ovarian epithelial cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

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Recurrent or Persistent Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment

Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)

Overall, approximately 80% of patients diagnosed with ovarian epithelial cancer will relapse after first-line platinum-based and taxane-based chemotherapy and may benefit from subsequent therapies; however, subsequent evidence questions this practice. Early detection of persistent disease by second-look laparotomies after completing first-line treatment is no longer practiced; when the outcomes in the 50% of institutions practicing such procedures were informally compared with the outcomes in those institutions not using such procedures, additional lack of support for them grew, as was found in the case for patients entered in GOG-0158. However, the practice of close follow-up of patients completing treatment by serial CA 125s at intervals of 1 to 3 months was nearly universally adopted. In patients who are in clinical complete remission, increases in CA 125 from their initial treatment represent the most common method to detect disease that will eventually relapse clinically.

A trial by the Medical Research Council and European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (MRC-OV05) examined the consequences of early institution of treatment for recurrence versus treatment delayed until clinical symptoms appeared. Patients in clinical complete remission after platinum-based chemotherapy were registered and followed with CA 125s only and clinical visits. Upon detection of a twofold elevation over the normal range, patients were randomly assigned to disclosure of the result (and early treatment for recurrence) versus continued blinding and treatment upon development of signs and symptoms indicative of clinical relapse. The number of randomly assigned patients was to exceed 500 in order to yield a superior survival outcome at 2 years with early institution of therapy; this required 1,400 registrations, which were accrued between May 1996 and August 2005. Among 1,442 registrants, 29% continued to show no evidence of relapse, 19% relapsed without evidence of CA 125 doubling beyond normal or at the same time, and another 4% died prior to becoming eligible for random assignment. Registrants had stage III and stage IV disease in 67% of the cases, whereas these stages represented 80% of the randomly assigned patients. The median survival of all patients registered was 70.8 months.

Median survival for patients randomly assigned to early treatment (n = 265) was 25.7 months compared with 27.1 months for those patients in the delayed-treatment group (n = 264) (HR = 0.98, 95% CI, 0.8–1.2). The median delay in instituting second-line chemotherapy was 4.8 months, and the median delay in instituting third-line chemotherapy was 4.6 months. Treatments for second-line chemotherapy were comparable among the two groups (mostly platinum- and taxane-based), whereas third-line treatments were less often applied to the delayed-treatment group. The study concluded that there was no benefit in the detection of early presence of disease by CA 125; this is consistent with the failure of second-look surgeries to provide improved outcomes after early detection of persistent disease. Monitoring CA 125 levels in follow-up may play a role in identifying appropriate candidates for secondary cytoreduction, although this strategy awaits confirmation with a randomized trial.

Local Modalities: Surgery and Radiation Therapy

Cytoreduction is often employed, but such intervention only now is being studied in the setting of a randomized clinical trial (GOG-0213). The role of radiation therapy in patients with recurrent ovarian cancer has not been defined.

Systemic treatment options for patients with recurrent disease are subdivided as follows:

  1. Platinum-sensitive recurrence: for patients whose disease recurs more than 6 months after cessation of the induction (usually retreated with a platinum [cisplatin or carboplatin] and referred to as potentially platinum sensitive).
  2. Platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrence: for patients who progress prior to cessation of induction therapy (platinum refractory) or within 6 months after cessation (platinum resistant); in these patients, platinums are generally deemed toxic and not sufficiently useful to be part of the treatment plan.

Platinum-Sensitive Recurrence

Table 7. Regimens Used in First RelapseEligibility (mo) RegimenPatient NumberComparatorComments on Outcome (mo)OS = overall survival; PFS = progression-free survival; PLD = pegylated liposomal doxorubicin.aTrabectedin has been approved for use in treating recurrent ovarian cancer in Europe and Canada.bOS data were not mature at the time the manuscript was published.Platinum sensitive (>6) Carboplatin + epirubicin190CarboplatinPowered for response differences; OS 17 vs. 15 Platinum sensitive (≥12)Cisplatin + doxorubicin + cyclophosphamide 97PaclitaxelPFS 15.7 vs. 9; OS 34.7 vs. 25.8 Platinum sensitive (>6)Carboplatin + gemcitabine356CarboplatinPFS 8.6 vs. 5.8; OS 18 vs. 17 Platinum sensitive (>6)Cisplatin or carboplatin + paclitaxel802Single or nontaxane + platinumsPFS 11 vs. 9; OS 24 vs. 19 Platinum sensitive + resistantPLD + trabectedina672PLDPFS 7.3 vs. 5.8; OS 20.5 vs. 19.4b

Carboplatin was approved in 1987 for the treatment of patients with ovarian cancer whose disease recurred after treatment with cisplatin, based on improved survival with etoposide or 5-fluorouracil. In a randomized phase II trial of paclitaxel, a currently used second-line drug, the cisplatin-containing combination of cisplatin plus doxorubicin plus cyclophosphamide (CAP) yielded a superior survival outcome. This, and subsequent studies (see Table 7), have reinforced using carboplatin as the treatment core for patients with platinum-sensitive recurrences. Cisplatin is occasionally used, particularly in combination with other drugs, because of its lesser myelosuppression, but this advantage over carboplatin is counterbalanced by its greater intolerance. Oxaliplatin, initially introduced with the hope that it would overcome platinum resistance, has activity mostly in platinum-sensitive patients but has not been compared with carboplatin alone or in combinations. With all platinums, outcome is generally better the longer the initial interval without recurrence from the initial platinum-containing regimens. Therefore, on occasion, patients with platinum-sensitive recurrences relapsing within 1 year have been included in trials of nonplatinum drugs. In one such trial, comparing the pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (PLD) to topotecan, the subset of patients who were platinum sensitive had better outcomes with either drug (and in particular with PLD) relative to the platinum-resistant cohort.

Several randomized trials have addressed whether the use of a platinum in combination is superior to single agents (see Table 7). A platinum-plus-paclitaxel combination yielded a superior outcome, in terms of response rates, PFS, and OS, in comparison to carboplatin as a single agent or other platinum-containing combinations as controls in an analysis of data analyzing jointly the results of three trials performed by the Medical Research Council/Arbeitsgemeinschaft Gynaekologische Onkologie (MRC/AGO) and ICON investigators (known as ICON4). Platinum plus paclitaxel was compared with several control regimens, though 71% used carboplatin as a single agent in the control, and 80% used carboplatin plus paclitaxel. Prolonged PFS (HR = 0.76; 95% CI, 0.66–0.89; P = .004) and overall survival (HR = 0.82; 95% CI, 0.69–0.97; P = .023) were improved in the platinum-plus-paclitaxel arm.[Level of evidence: 1iiA] The AGO had previously compared the combination of epirubicin plus carboplatin to carboplatin alone and had not found significant differences in outcome.

Another trial by European and Canadian groups compared gemcitabine plus carboplatin to carboplatin. The PFS of 8.6 months with the combination was significantly superior to 5.8 months for the carboplatin alone (HR = .72; 95% CI, 0.58–0.90; P = .003). The study was not powered to detect significant differences in OS, and the median survival for both arms was 18 months (HR = 0.96; CI, 0.75–1.23; P = .73).

Carboplatin plus paclitaxel has been considered the standard regimen for platinum-sensitive recurrence in the absence of residual neurotoxicity. The GOG-0213 trial is comparing this regimen to the experimental arm that adds bevacizumab to carboplatin plus paclitaxel.

In a phase III trial, carboplatin plus PLD (CD) was compared to carboplatin plus paclitaxel (CP) in patients with platinum-sensitive recurrence (>6 months). The primary endpoint was PFS with a median PFS for the CD arm of 11.3 months versus 9.4 months for the CP arm (HR = .823; 95% CI, 0.72–0.94; P = .005).[Level of evidence: 1iiDiii] The CP arm was associated with increased severe neutropenia, alopecia, neuropathy, and allergic reaction; the CD arm was associated with increased severe thrombocytopenia, nausea, and hand-foot syndrome. Although OS data have not been reported, given its toxicity profile and noninferiority to the standard regimen, CD is an important option for patients with platinum-sensitive recurrence.

Platinum-Refractory or Platinum-Resistant Recurrence

Clinical recurrences that take place within 6 months of completion of a platinum-containing regimen are considered platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrences. Anthracyclines (particularly when formulated as PLD), taxanes, topotecan, and gemcitabine are used as single agents for these recurrences based on activity and their favorable therapeutic indices relative to agents listed in Table 8. The long list underscores the marginal benefit, if any, generally conveyed by these agents. Patients with platinum-resistant disease should be encouraged to enter clinical trials.

Treatment with paclitaxel historically provided the first agent with consistent activity in patients with platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrences. Subsequently, randomized studies have indicated that the use of topotecan achieved results that were comparable to those achieved with paclitaxel. Topotecan was compared with PLD in a randomized trial of 474 patients and demonstrated similar response rates, PFS, and OS at the time of the initial report, which was contributed primarily by the platinum-resistant subsets.

  1. Topotecan. In phase II studies, topotecan administered intravenously on days 1 to 5 of a 21-day cycle yielded objective response rates ranging from 13% to 16.3% and other outcomes that were equivalent or superior to paclitaxel. Objective responses are reported in patients with platinum-refractory disease. Substantial myelosuppression follows administration. Other toxic effects include nausea, vomiting, alopecia, and asthenia. A number of schedules and oral formulations are under evaluation. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Nausea and Vomiting for more information.)
  2. PLD. A phase II study of encapsulated doxorubicin given IV once every 21 to 28 days demonstrated one complete response and eight partial responses in 35 patients with platinum-refractory or paclitaxel-refractory disease (response rate = 25.7%). In general, liposomal doxorubicin has few acute side effects other than hypersensitivity. The most frequent toxic effects are usually observed after the first cycle and are more pronounced following dose rates exceeding 10 mg/m2 per week and include stomatitis and hand-foot syndrome. Neutropenia and nausea are minimal, and alopecia rarely occurs. Liposomal doxorubicin and topotecan have been compared in a randomized trial of 474 patients with recurrent ovarian cancer. Response rates (19.7% vs. 17.0%; P = .390), PFS (16.1 wk vs. 17.0 wk; P = .095), and OS (60 wk vs. 56.7 wk; P = .341) did not differ significantly between the liposomal doxorubicin and topotecan arms, respectively.[Level of evidence: 1iiA] Survival was longer for the patients with platinum-sensitive disease who received liposomal doxorubicin.
  3. Docetaxel. This drug has shown activity in paclitaxel-pretreated patients and is a reasonable alternative to weekly paclitaxel in the recurrent setting.
  4. Gemcitabine. Several phase II trials of gemcitabine as a single agent administered IV on days 1, 8, and 15 of a 28-day cycle have been reported. The response rate ranges from 13% to 19% in evaluable patients. Responses have been observed in patients whose disease is platinum refractory and/or paclitaxel refractory as well as in patients with bulky disease. Leukopenia, anemia, and thrombocytopenia are the most common toxic effects. Many patients report transient flu-like symptoms and a rash following drug administration. Other toxic effects, including nausea, are usually mild. (Refer to the anemia section in the PDQ summary on Fatigue and refer to the PDQ summary on Nausea and Vomiting for more information.) A randomized trial of gemcitabine versus PLD showed noninferiority and no advantage in therapeutic index of one drug over the other.
  5. Paclitaxel. Patients generally received paclitaxel in front-line induction regimens. Retreatment with paclitaxel, particularly in weekly schedules, indicates an activity comparable to those of the preceding drugs. If there is residual neuropathy upon recurrence, this may shift the choice of treatment towards other agents. In a phase III study, 235 patients who did not respond to initial treatment with a platinum-based regimen but who had not previously received paclitaxel or topotecan, were randomly assigned to receive either topotecan as a 30-minute infusion daily for 5 days every 21 days or paclitaxel as a 3-hour infusion every 21 days. The overall objective response rate was 20.5% for those patients who were randomly assigned to treatment with topotecan and 13.2% for those patients who were randomly assigned to treatment with paclitaxel (P = .138). Both groups experienced myelosuppression and gastrointestinal toxic effects. Nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and infection were observed more commonly following treatment with topotecan, whereas alopecia, arthralgia, myalgia, and neuropathy were observed more commonly following paclitaxel. (For information on gastrointestinal toxic effects, refer to the PDQ summary on Gastrointestinal Complications; refer to the PDQ summary on Nausea and Vomiting and the PDQ summary on Fatigue; and, for more information on arthralgia, myalgia, and neuropathy, refer to the PDQ summary on Pain.)
  6. Bevacizumab. Three phase II studies have shown activity for this antibody to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The first study, GOG-0170D, included 62 patients who had received only one or two prior treatments (these last patients had received one additional platinum-based regimen because of an initial interval of 12 months or greater after first-line regimens and also had to have a performance status of 0 or 1). Patients received a dose of 15 mg/kg every 21 days; there were two complete responses and 11 partial responses, a median PFS of 4.7 months, and an OS of 17 months. This activity was noted in both platinum-sensitive and platinum-resistant subsets. The second study only included patients with platinum-resistant disease using an identical dose schedule, but the study was stopped because five of 44 patients experienced bowel perforations, one of them fatal; seven partial responses had been observed. This increased risk of bowel perforations was associated with three or more prior treatments.[Level of evidence: 3iiiDii] The third study (CCC-PHII-45) included 70 patients who received 50 mg of oral cyclophosphamide daily, in addition to bevacizumab (10 mg/kg every 2 wk); 17 partial responses were observed and four patients had intestinal perforations. Studies by the Gynecologic Oncology Group are evaluating the efficacy of the drug added to the initial treatment and at first recurrence in the platinum-resistant setting.

Other drugs used to treat platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant recurrence

This group includes drugs that are not fully confirmed to have activity in a platinum-resistant setting, have a less desirable therapeutic index, and have a level of evidence lower than 3iiiDiv.

Table 8: Other Drugs That Have Been Used in the Setting of Recurrent Ovarian Cancer (Efficacy Not Well Defined After Failure of Platinum-Containing Regimens) DrugsDrug ClassMajor ToxicitiesCommentsEtoposideTopoisomerase II inhibitorMyelosuppression; alopeciaOral; rare leukemia dampens interestCyclophosphamide and several other bischloroethylaminesAlkylating agentsMyelosuppression; alopecia (only the oxazaphosphorines)Leukemia and cystitis; uncertain activity after platinumsHexamethylmelamine (Altretamine)Unknown but probably alkylating prodrugsEmesis and neurotoxicityOral; uncertain activity after platinumsIrinotecanTopoisomerase I inhibitorDiarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptomsCross-resistant to topotecanOxaliplatinPlatinumNeuropathy, emesis, myelosuppressionCross-resistant to usual platinums, but less soVinorelbineMitotic inhibitorMyelosuppressionErratic activityFluorouracil and capecitabineFluoropyrimidine antimetabolitesGastrointestinal symptoms and myelosuppressionCapecitabine is oral; may be useful in mucinous tumorsPemetrexedFolic acid antagonistMyelosuppression, rashUnder study in combinations with carboplatinTamoxifenAntiestrogenThromboembolismOral; minimal activity, perhaps more in subsets

Treatment Options for Patients with Recurrent or Persistent Disease

  1. Secondary cytoreduction has been advocated, but it remains controversial. The GOG-0213 trial, active in 2008, is attempting to define its role.
  2. For patients with platinum-sensitive disease (i.e., ≥5–12 mo between completion of a platinum-based regimen and the development of recurrent disease), retreatment with a platinum or platinum-containing combination, such as carboplatin, should be considered (see Table 7).
  3. For patients with platinum-refractory or platinum-resistant disease (i.e., disease that has progressed while on a platinum-based regimen or has recurred within 6 months of completion of a platinum-based regimen), clinical trials should be considered. For patients who are not entering a trial, treatment with one of the drugs listed above should be considered.
  4. Other agents that have shown activity in phase II trials are listed in Table 8 and may also be used alone or in combination with other drugs, but such treatments are best done in prospective trials.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

References:
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  • Rustin GJ, van der Burg ME, Griffin CL, et al.: Early versus delayed treatment of relapsed ovarian cancer (MRC OV05/EORTC 55955): a randomised trial. Lancet 376 (9747): 1155-63, 2010.
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  • McGuire WP, Rowinsky EK, Rosenshein NB, et al.: Taxol: a unique antineoplastic agent with significant activity in advanced ovarian epithelial neoplasms. Ann Intern Med 111 (4): 273-9, 1989.
  • Einzig AI, Wiernik PH, Sasloff J, et al.: Phase II study and long-term follow-up of patients treated with taxol for advanced ovarian adenocarcinoma. J Clin Oncol 10 (11): 1748-53, 1992.
  • Thigpen JT, Blessing JA, Ball H, et al.: Phase II trial of paclitaxel in patients with progressive ovarian carcinoma after platinum-based chemotherapy: a Gynecologic Oncology Group study. J Clin Oncol 12 (9): 1748-53, 1994.
  • Trimble EL, Adams JD, Vena D, et al.: Paclitaxel for platinum-refractory ovarian cancer: results from the first 1,000 patients registered to National Cancer Institute Treatment Referral Center 9103. J Clin Oncol 11 (12): 2405-10, 1993.
  • ten Bokkel Huinink W, Gore M, Carmichael J, et al.: Topotecan versus paclitaxel for the treatment of recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer. J Clin Oncol 15 (6): 2183-93, 1997.
  • Gordon AN, Fleagle JT, Guthrie D, et al.: Recurrent epithelial ovarian carcinoma: a randomized phase III study of pegylated liposomal doxorubicin versus topotecan. J Clin Oncol 19 (14): 3312-22, 2001.
  • Kudelka AP, Tresukosol D, Edwards CL, et al.: Phase II study of intravenous topotecan as a 5-day infusion for refractory epithelial ovarian carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 14 (5): 1552-7, 1996.
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About This PDQ Summary

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This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of ovarian epithelial cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

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The lead reviewers for Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment are:

  • Leslie R. Boyd, MD (New York University Medical Center)
  • Franco M. Muggia, MD (New York University Medical Center)

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National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/ovarianepithelial/HealthProfessional. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.

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