Maurie Markman, MD, an oncologist and president of Medicine and Science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which has hospitals in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tulsa. CancerCenter.com
Three major US studies have concluded that a treatment known as intraperitoneal (IP) therapy often extends the lives of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. One study found that IP therapy reduces the risk for death within the 10 years following treatment by 23%.
Yet according to some estimates, fewer than half of ovarian cancer patients receive IP therapy, which involves pumping chemotherapy drugs directly into the abdominal cavity. Many patients are not even told about it.
Why is IP therapy not more widely used? Several reasons…
Pharmaceutical companies are not pushing it. IP therapy uses generic drugs, so there’s no big company promoting it to doctors.
The procedure is time-consuming, unprofitable and unfamiliar to many doctors. Some oncologists do not provide IP therapy simply because they have no experience with it. They have little economic incentive to learn—pumping chemotherapy drugs into the abdomen takes significantly more time and effort than simply setting up a traditional IV. (IP therapy is used in conjunction with intravenous delivery of chemotherapy drugs, not instead of it.)
There are side effects. IP therapy can cause increased discomfort for patients, including painful abdominal bloating during treatment. The process also is more invasive than traditional IV delivery—typically a catheter is inserted into the abdomen, which occasionally leads to infection. But any side effects are temporary, and any infection is likely to be treatable.
If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer: Ask your oncologist if IP therapy is an option. If your oncologist doesn’t seem to be well-informed about IP therapy or simply says he/she doesn’t do it, ask for a referral to an oncologist who does use the therapy. If your oncologist cannot provide such a referral, contact the American Cancer Society (Cancer.org) and/or the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO.org) and ask for a referral to a gynecological oncologist in your area who has experience with IP therapy.