Targeted Therapy for Ovarian Cancer

Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack cancer cells while doing little damage to normal cells. These therapies attack the cancer cells' inner workings − the programming that makes them different from normal, healthy cells. Each type of targeted therapy works differently, but all alter the way a cancer cell grows, divides, repairs itself, or interacts with other cells.

Bevacizumab

Bevacizumab (Avastin) belongs to a class of drugs known as angiogenesis inhibitors. In order for cancers to grow and spread, they need new blood vessels to form to nourish the tumors (called angiogenesis). This drug binds to a substance called VEGF that signals new blood vessels to form. This can slow or stop the growth of cancers.

In studies, bevacizumab has been shown to shrink or slow the growth of advanced epithelial ovarian cancers. Trials to see if bevacizumab works even better when given along with chemotherapy have shown good results in terms of shrinking (or stopping the growth of) tumors. But it doesn’t seem to help women live longer.

This drug is given as an infusion into the vein (IV) every 2 to 3 weeks.

Common side effects include high blood pressure, tiredness, bleeding, low white blood cell counts, headaches, mouth sores, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Rare but possibly serious side effects include blood clots, severe bleeding, slow wound healing, holes forming in the colon (called perforations), and the formation of abnormal connections between the bowel and the skin or bladder (fistulas). If a perforation or fistula occurs it can lead to severe infection and may require surgery to correct.

PARP inhibitors

Olaparib (Lynparza) and rucaparib (Rubraca) are drugs known as a PARP (poly(ADP)-ribose polymerase) inhibitors. PARP enzymes are normally involved in one pathway to help repair damaged DNA inside cells. The BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are also normally involved in a different pathway of DNA repair, and mutations in those genes can block that pathway. By blocking the PARP pathway, these drugs make it very hard for tumor cells with a mutated BRCA gene to repair damaged DNA, which often leads to the death of these cells.

These drugs are used to treat advanced ovarian cancer, typically after chemotherapy has been tried. At this time, these 2 drugs are only used in patients who have mutations in one of the BRCA genes. Only a small portion of women with ovarian cancer have mutated BRCA genes. If you are not known to have a BRCA mutation, your doctor will test your blood to be sure you have one before starting treatment with one of these drugs.

In studies, these drugs have been shown to help shrink or slow the growth of some advanced ovarian cancers for a time. So far, though, it's not clear if they can help women live longer.

Niraparib (Zejula) is another PARP inhibitor. It is typically used to treat recurrent ovarian cancer, after chemotherapy has been tried. Unlike the other PARP inhibitors, this drug can be used to treat women with or without a BRCA gene mutation. 

All of these drugs are taken daily by mouth, as pills.

Side effects of these drugs can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, taste changes, low red blood cell counts (anemia), belly pain, and muscle and joint pain. Rarely, some patients treated with these drugs have developed a blood cancer, such as myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myeloid leukemia

Other targeted therapy drugs are also being studied.

See Targeted Therapy for more information about these kinds of drugs.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 5, 2014 Last Revised: March 29, 2017

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