After receiving her initial ovarian cancer treatment at another facility, Dawn Harter of Green Bay, Wisconsin, started researching clinical trials and discovered one that offered the possibility of taking a new maintenance medication. The opportunity gave her hope for preventing recurrence. At the time, Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, SD, was one of only two sites in the United States to have that particular trial open. Dawn chose Avera Medical Group Gynecologic Oncology and asked to be enrolled.
“Thankfully, she reached out to us just in time,” recalls Luis Rojas, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at Avera. “We only had a 12-week window in which we could enroll her in the study and she’d completed her first line of therapy eight weeks prior. So in those last few weeks, we were able to make it happen and enroll her in the trial.”
“I feel blessed to have found Dr. Rojas,” says Dawn. “He and his staff moved mountains to get me admitted. Everyone has been pleasant, kind and hopeful – qualities I was in desperate need of. I believe being part of the study has given me a new chance at life. As a biologist, I like the idea of stopping this cancer for good!”
Although it’s difficult to know where Dawn would be without the clinical trial, the promising news is that she has been in remission for 33 months.
“When you look at the behavior of ovarian cancers, the median time of cancer recurrence is around 18 months, so Dawn is doing well,” explains Rojas. “Her outcome from the clinical trial makes us all very happy.”
While participating in a clinical trial includes potential pros and cons, oftentimes the benefits outweigh any drawbacks.
“Clinical trials are very important,” says Rojas. “The best way to describe their importance is to say that if I ever get cancer, I’ll participate in a clinical trial if I can. They open new doors of treatment options to the patients – options that are potentially better than standard therapy. They also provide the information needed to forward the field of cancer treatment. The reason we’re more effective at treating cancer today is because of clinical trials that took place 10-20 years ago.”
Targeted Cancer Therapy
In addition to standard therapy and clinical trials, patients also have access to innovative, targeted cancer therapy through the Avera Cancer Institute Center for Precision Oncology.
“We can offer patients a combination of standard chemotherapy and targeted therapy based on their tumors’ genetic profile,” says Rojas. “We have many ovarian cancer patients receiving that kind of treatment now and doing amazingly well. For example, we have multiple patients with ovarian cancers who, after multiple lines of therapies, developed a cancer-related intestinal obstruction. Statistically speaking, most of those women had a median predicted survival of 60 days and now they’re still with us several years later.”
Dr. Rojas describes targeted therapy as a two-in-one punch. “With that combination, we hit the cancer with chemotherapy that kills the cancer cells. At the same time, we use the targeted therapy to hold the hands of the cancer cells, so they can’t defend themselves by mutating and becoming resistant to the treatment. I believe this is the future of cancer treatment. It’s here and now at Avera.”