Women with late-stage ovarian cancer may benefit from decitabine-carboplatin combination therapy, according to a study conducted by researchers from Indiana University.

The study, which was published in the journal Cancer (2010 June 8 [Epub ahead of print]), included women 51 to 71 years old who had previously exhausted all approved treatments for ovarian cancer. The study patients were treated first with daily IV decitabine for 5 days, followed on the eighth day with carboplatin. After one month, the regimen was repeated.

According to background information provided by co-principal investigator Daniela Matei, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, women with ovarian cancer usually survive less than one year after they become resistant to carboplatin and their cancer recurs. “Carboplatin is the most efficient drug therapy for ovarian cancer,” Dr. Matei explained. “Unfortunately, patients with recurrent disease become resistant to the drug after one or two rounds.”

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Researchers reported that the combination of decitabine and carboplatin appeared to improve the outcome for women who have late-stage ovarian cancer. Specifically, four of 10 patients had no disease progression after six months of treatment. At 8.5 months, 7 patients were alive and cancerous tissue in one patient had shrunk completely.

The authors explained that while the reason why the trial patients were responsive to the combination therapy is not yet known, based on the literature and an analysis of biopsy tissue and blood samples, it is suspected that decitabine reactivates tumor suppression genes that are turned off in ovarian cancer cells.

“Our hypothesis is that decitabine isn’t just targeting active ovarian cancer cells, but also cancer stem cells that seem to survive the first treatments,” said Kenneth Nephew, the study’s other co-principal investigator. “By keeping tumor suppression genes from being methylated, carboplatin and other platinum-based treatments for ovarian cancer have better chance of success in the late stages.”