Researchers, doctors work to improve ovarian cancer treatment

Posted at 9:58 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 22:58:26-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The month of September is dedicated to ovarian cancer awareness. It can be a tricky cancer to diagnose making it quite deadly when caught in later stages. But researchers and doctors here in the mid-state are working to change that.

Kathy Nelson makes the trip from Clarksville to Nashville every three months for a check-up at Vanderbilt. The routine of lab work and tests always puts her on edge until she hears this from her doctor.

“No evidence there's been any progression or recurrence of your cancer.”

Kathy hasn't always received that news. She was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017. Surgery and chemo followed. And just as Kathy was getting back to life, 15 months after her first diagnosis, the cancer was back. But this time, Dr. Ronald Alvarez had something new to try. A medication, taken daily, called a PARP inhibitor -- which promotes the death of cancer cells.

“The most recent studies show the women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer who have a BRCA mutation who are given the PARP-inhibitor, over 50% of them are living greater than five years and that statistic used to be around 10 - 20%,” says Dr. Alvarez.

Those stats are driven by research and medical trials. Because ovarian cancer is rare, private donations are often the fuel needed to jumpstart new discoveries.

“Making progress in ovarian cancer is really a team effort,” says Alvaez.

Kathy, of course, is happy to be on the winning team after beating cancer a second time.

“To have cancer but not let cancer have me -- that's kind of how I like to look at it.”

Kathy wants to encourage women to listen to their gut. If you think something is wrong -- keep seeking answers. Ovarian cancer mimics a lot of ailments. Some of the symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss and pressure on your bladder or bowels.

A local group is leading the charge in funding research at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center. Chic Awaerness has raised more than $500,000 since 2013 with its yearly fashion fundraiser.

This year's event is on December 6th. For more information, click here.