Vaccines for Ovarian Cancer

Last Modified: August 21, 2005


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My name is Marius and I am from Romania. My girlfriend is 26 yrs old, and has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had surgery. Doctors said that the cancer is stage IIA and the cell type is G2. She has had several chemotherapy treatments, but the doctors are not giving her a good chance of survival. I read an article on the Internet about an injection against cancer; the injection is made from cancer cells from the patient and made into an anti-cancer vaccine. Can you please tell me more about vaccines?


Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

I am very sorry for your girlfriend's situation. Unfortunately, vaccines for cancer therapy are only currently in investigational stages. In other words, they are still under study and require a patient to enroll in very specialized clinical trials. These trials are only available at certain medical centers in the world, and each center has unique cancer vaccines being tested. For example, one study uses the patient's own cancer cells and modifies them so that they secrete a substance called GM-CSF, which stimulates the immune system. These modified cells are then given back to the patient, together with another chemical to modify the body's immune response. Our own hospital has a vaccine that does not use tumor cells, but uses one of the body's specialized immune cells to encourage the patient's immune system to fight the cancer. These vaccines are not medications that can be purchased. They can only be obtained by participating in a clinical trial at one of these participating medical institutions.

I think that if you feel your girlfriend's physicians are not being helpful, perhaps you should seek a second opinion? While patients with persistent or recurrent ovarian cancer are rarely cured, there are many standard second- and third-line chemotherapies available that may help shrink tumors, such as gemcitabine, liposomal doxorubicin, topotecan, and etoposide, just to name a few. Best of luck to you both.