Treating Ovarian Cancer With Immunotherapy & Checkpoint Inhibitors

A  doctor talks to a woman about ovarian cancer immunotherapy treatment

Receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis can be devastating. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with this malignancy, you’re likely trying to find out everything you can about treatment options. You’ll be glad to know that there’s an innovative treatment method on the horizon that can potentially be used to treat ovarian cancer: Immunotherapy.

Although traditional approaches can certainly still be effective in treating ovarian cancer—including chemotherapy and surgery (such as unilateral salpingo-oophorectomies, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomies, hysterectomies, lymph node dissections, omentectomies and cytoreductive/debulking procedures)—immunotherapy offers patients and their physicians a new realm of possibilities for treatment.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy involves harnessing components of a patient’s immune system with the goal of fighting off certain diseases, including various types of cancer. Unlike many other forms of cancer treatment, immunotherapy doesn’t involve any direct interaction with the malignancy. Instead, physicians use immunotherapy to strengthen a patient’s immune system so that it has a better chance of fighting off the cancer on its own. In some instances, immunotherapy might involve boosting a patient’s overall immune system; in other cases, it may involve teaching the immune system how to recognize and attack specific cancer cells.

What are immune checkpoint inhibitors?

An immune checkpoint inhibitor is a form of immunotherapy. A person’s immune system contains checkpoints that are tasked with the responsibility of distinguishing between healthy cells and harmful foreign ones. Once these checkpoints detect the presence of foreign cells, the immune system springs into action to attack the foreign cells, leaving the healthy ones alone.

Sometimes, when cancer invades a person’s body, it can prevent the checkpoints from performing their job. Certain cancer cells emit proteins that essentially fool the checkpoints into thinking that they’re healthy cells, and when this happens, the cancer can continue spreading throughout the body undetected. Immune checkpoint inhibitors stop this from occurring. By blocking the cancer proteins from interacting with the checkpoints, the inhibitors allow the immune system to correctly identify and destroy the malignancy before it can spread any further.

What are PARP inhibitors?

PARP inhibitors are viewed as a promising treatment that may slow the progression of ovarian cancer while prolonging the period between remission and recurrence. PARP inhibitors are a form of targeted therapy, a type of cancer treatment that uses special drugs to identify and disable the inner workings of cancer cells while minimizing disruption to normal, healthy cells. Moffitt was among the first institutions in the world to give patients access to PARP inhibitors through clinical trials for women with recurrent ovarian cancer.

Options offered at Moffitt Cancer Center

The Gynecologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center is actively participating in immunotherapy trials involving checkpoint inhibitors, as well as ones focused on vaccine therapy and cellular therapy.

By helping patients’ immune systems build immunity against the target protein, we may be able to help them better recognize ovarian cancer and prevent it from recurring. What’s more, we’re involved in early clinical trials focusing on extracted T-cells that have been engineered to recognize other specific cancer proteins.

Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist, Gynecologic Oncology Program 

If you’re interested in learning more about our immunotherapy trials, contact Moffitt Cancer Center today. Request an appointment by calling us at 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online.