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New treatment options offer hope for Saudi ovarian cancer patients

Group of specialists are seen speaking to the media on the sidelines of a conference in Jeddah, titled “The Current Reality and Future Solutions for Ovarian Cancer". (Photo courtesy: supplied)
JEDDAH: Saudi women are falling victims to ovarian cancer due to late detection of the disease, a medical conference warned in Jeddah on Sunday.
Dr. Shadi Al-Khayyat, an oncology consultant at King Abdul Aziz University Hospital in Jeddah, said that there are new treatment options for ovarian cancer, which represents 4 percent of all cancer cases among women globally. 
Dr. Al-Khayyat was speaking to the media on the sidelines of a conference in Jeddah, titled “The Current Reality and Future Solutions for Ovarian Cancer.”
The event, organized by the Saudi Oncology Society (SOS) and AstraZeneca, attracted several medical experts.
Al-Khayyat said that therapeutic options for ovarian cancer have not seen any significant development for many years; it was mostly confined to surgery, which was considered as a first step in the treatment pathway followed by other treatments, such as chemotherapy, which has led ovarian cancer patients to face difficult choices. This was until a new class of medications, called PARP inhibitors, were developed, led by AstraZeneca, which has shown significant improvement in delaying disease progression compared to older therapies. 
This new class of medications is most effective in ovarian cancer patients who have a mutation in the BRCA gene, and is administered orally. It delays the need for further chemotherapy, and provides a better chance in delaying disease progression, which allows patients to carry on with their daily activities and strengthens them in their fight against the disease.
Trad Al-Khelaiwi, oncology business unit director and head of governmental affairs at AstraZeneca, stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to raise awareness on ovarian cancer among all segments of Saudi society, revealing that ovarian cancer mortality in the Kingdom in the early stages of the disease is only 19 percent compared to 81 percent for advanced stages. Unfortunately, only 36 percent of women are diagnosed at an early stage, while the majority are diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Dr. Faisal Al-Safi, section head and consultant in gynecologic oncology, department of oncology at the King Abdul Aziz Medical City/National Guard Health Affairs, said that ovarian cancer therapy has been improving due to the development of scientific research particularly during the last five years, which led to important strides offering more promising solutions for the disease, which causes an annual mortality of around 150,000 women globally.
He emphasized the importance of undergoing breast cancer BRCA gene testing for all ovarian cancer patients to identify who will most benefit from the new available treatment options. 
Dr. Meteb Al-Fohaidi, president of the Saudi Oncology Society, said that the high number of deaths among ovarian cancer patients is related to several factors, including the difficulty of its identification before reaching advanced stages due to the nature of cancer cell proliferation.
Previous studies revealed that 13 percent of doctors in Saudi Arabia are unaware of the latest recommendations of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the Society of Gynecological Oncology on the importance of BRCA testing when needed.
Al-Fohaidi stressed on the importance of raising public health awareness, saying that there is a relation between ovarian cancer and breast cancer, as BRCA mutations are responsible for 5-10 percent of all breast cancer cases, which suggests the importance of conducting a thorough family history for breast cancer patients. 

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