New hope for women with advanced-stage ovarian cancer

June 13, 2018 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Ovarian cancer ranks as the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women, taking the lives of more than 14,000 women per year. If detected before it spreads, survival rates are typically higher than 90 percent, while advanced-stage disease can be much more challenging to treat. However, new research shows a promising option for patients suffering from stage III ovarian cancer.

Research reported in the Jan. 18, 2018 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine suggests HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy), a treatment modality for abdominal cancers, results in longer survival rates for patients with stage III ovarian cancer when combined with abdominal cancer surgery. Cancer survivor Raisa Frenkel, now 65, had the procedure almost five years ago.

In the fall of 2013, Frenkel didn’t feel quite right. Fullness and pain in her abdomen caused her to visit her doctor, who discovered a pelvic mass on a CT scan and an elevated level of a protein in her blood that can indicate ovarian cancer.

Frenkel had surgery to remove the mass in November 2013, but pathology reports revealed there was still cancer in the connective tissue around her ovaries and small bowel, liver and spleen.

Frenkel’s son, Edward Frenkel, translates for his mother, who speaks only Russian, and describes what happened next.

“In the waiting room, the doctor explained my mom needed another surgery or she could die,” Edward says. “We were so scared.”

But Frenkel’s doctor also shared that there was a skilled surgeon at Edward Hospital who could perform HIPEC, a procedure that combines surgery for abdominal cancer with chemotherapy and heat to kill cancer cells in the abdomen.

Reluctant to have more surgery, Frenkel scheduled an appointment with surgical oncologist George Salti M.D., co-medical director of the Edward Cancer Center and medical director of the Edward Hospital Surgical Oncology program. Dr. Salti is one of a few surgeons in Chicagoland with the expertise to perform HIPEC.

“With this new data from The New England Journal of Medicine showing improved outcomes for women with ovarian cancer, it’s important to get the word out that HIPEC may be a viable option,” says Dr. Salti.

In Frenkel’s case, Dr. Salti would remove as much of the tumor as possible, targeting areas where ovarian cancer typically spreads. Following the surgical removal of affected areas, he would then deliver a chemotherapy solution via catheter to her abdominal cavity where it would be circulated for about 90 minutes to destroy any undetected tumor cells.

This approach allows chemotherapy to be delivered in a single, higher dose with fewer side effects. While many patients require additional systemic treatments following HIPEC, others, like Frenkel, would not.

Through her son, Frenkel describes Dr. Salti as “wonderful” and says she understood this was the best option for her. Soon after meeting with him, she scheduled the procedure, which took place in February 2014.

Frankel is now celebrating more than four years cancer-free, although she still looks forward to her check-ups with Dr. Salti.

“I just want to say thank you,” says Frenkel. “This surgery gave me another life and I appreciate Dr. Salti so much.”  

Learn more about HIPEC. 

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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