Tell me about ovarian cancer vaccines that are supposed to prevent recurrence of ovarian cancer. Do they work?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

Research continues in the development of a number of vaccines designed to prevent the recurrence of ovarian cancer. So far, ovarian cancer vaccines are available only in clinical trial studies.

One theory behind ovarian cancer vaccines is that they stimulate the immune system to detect and eliminate any cancer cells that reappear after initial treatment has been completed. Vaccines under study include abagovomab and oregovomab.

Abagovomab has been shown to elicit an immune response in women with ovarian cancer, but it's not known if this improves the outcome. Major clinical trials studying abagovomab are currently underway. Oregovomab also has been tested and has been shown to elicit an immune response. But one study showed no difference in the recurrence rate in women who got oregovomab as compared with a placebo. Other vaccines are also being studied, as are ways to help boost the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Surgery followed by chemotherapy remains the standard primary treatment for ovarian cancer. One aspect of ovarian cancer vaccine research includes examining how best to use these vaccines in combination with chemotherapy.

Although research has shown that ovarian cancer vaccines may hold promise, these studies have involved only small numbers of participants. More and larger studies are needed to further evaluate the potential role that vaccines may play in preventing recurrent ovarian cancer.

Mar. 23, 2012