Anti-cancer treatments for ovarian cancer such as chemotherapy can cause harsh side effects and does not work as well as they need to for all patients. This is an issue– particularly in older and frailer women.
Most trials so far haven’t taken older, less fit patients into account, which means that experts can’t be sure how well treatments work for older patients or women with more complex medical needs in the real-world clinic.
But experts in geriatric oncology – the area of medicine concerned with cancer diagnosis and treatment in older patients – believe that more tailored questions and tests can better identify older patients who need more support through their treatment. Given that half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 65, this could mean many women with ovarian cancer are receiving too little or too much anti-cancer treatment, which can have serious health consequences.
Dr Susana Banerjee, Wellbeing of Women researcher and Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Reader in Women’s Cancers at The Institute of Cancer Research, wants to address this by finding out if there’s a better way to assess older women for ovarian cancer treatment, predict side effects and the effectiveness of treatment.
In the FAIR-O study, a trial taking place at clinics across the country and the first of its kind in ovarian cancer, Dr Banerjee will test a more holistic kind of assessment in the oncology clinic with specific treatments which will take the patient’s wider health into account.
Dr Banerjee and her team’s findings could help healthcare professionals optimise each individual woman’s condition to cope better with treatment and side effects so patients are more able to receive the right treatment minimising them feeling more unwell unnecessarily.
The team will see whether factors such as a woman’s amount and quality of muscle will affect how well treatment works, their long-term health and quality of life.
They will also test blood and tumour samples to better understand why treatment works more or less effectively in some women, and why some experience more side effects.
To find this out, a team of experts have created clear guidelines for this new assessment, and Dr Banerjee will test whether oncology teams can use them effectively to perform these tests and use their findings to improve women’s care.
By developing this new way of assessing women before they have cancer treatment, Dr Banerjee’s project could help older women diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year receive even better care than they receive today.