CHICAGO — Women with ovarian cancer might be able to stave off relapses for an extra five months or so by taking a drug already approved to treat kidney cancer, researchers reported Saturday.
The study was one of many being presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Another study shows that a drug might have some effect against a rare but notoriously hard to treat form of melanoma.
Ovarian cancer is often successfully controlled initially by surgery and chemotherapy. But about 70 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer experience a relapse, often in the first year.
The study tested the strategy known as maintenance therapy. Instead of stopping treatment after the tumor is controlled and resuming it only when the cancer starts to worsen, a new drug is given immediately after the successful chemotherapy.
In this study, which involved 940 women with advanced cancer, the maintenance drug was pazopanib, sold as Votrient to treat kidney cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.
For those who got the drug, the median time before the cancer worsened was 17.9 months, compared with 12.3 months for those who got a placebo as the maintenance therapy.
"Many patients will experience longer disease-free and chemotherapy-free periods," the lead author, Dr. Andreas du Bois, a gynecologic oncologist at the Kliniken Essen Mitte in Essen, Germany, said in a statement.
The trial was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, which sells Votrient.
Another study found that an experimental drug, selumetinib, might be the first to improve the outcome of patients with melanoma that arises in the eye rather than the skin.
So called uveal melanoma is very rare, with only about 2,000 new cases a year in the United States. But it has been very difficult to treat after it spreads.
"We had no options for this group of patients," said Dr. Lynn Schuchter, a melanoma specialist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study. She said the new drug represented an advance.
The drug, which is not yet on the market, is being developed for various cancers by AstraZeneca under license from Array BioPharma, a biotechnology company in Boulder, Colo.