New research makes inroad into deadly ovarian cancer

Queensland scientists have made significant inroads into our understanding of the deadliest form of ovarian cancer after identifying two enzymes that make it resistant to chemotherapy.

There is currently no proven screening test or method of prevention for ovarian cancer, which kills more than half of all Australian women who are diagnosed within five years.

With funding from Cancer Council Queensland, researchers at QUT are working to better understand how serous ovarian cancer cells aggregate and survive in the ascites fluid that accumulates in the abdomen, and why it is resistant to chemotherapy treatment.

QUT’s team is one of a few groups of scientists in the world working with 3D modelling for ovarian cancer, to replicate cancer cell behaviour in the abdominal cavity.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said ovarian cancer was often diagnosed after it had spread, reducing the chances of survival significantly.

“If ovarian cancer is treated when confined to the ovaries, 93 per cent of patients will be alive in five years,” Ms Clift said.

“If the cancer spreads to surrounding tissue or organs, only 39 per cent of patients will be alive after five years. If the cancer spreads more distantly, the figure drops to just 30 per cent of patients who will survive five years after diagnosis.”

QUT’s Distinguished Professor Judith Clements said serous ovarian cancer spreads rapidly throughout the abdominal area and ultimately becomes resistant to chemotherapy treatment.

“This form of cancer is incredibly aggressive, moving quickly from the ovaries to the abdominal cavity where the tumour cells aggregate or clump, become embedded in the wall of the abdomen and then grow at quite a rapid pace,” Professor Clements said.

“While chemotherapy will often work initially, this form of cancer has found a way of beating the current chemotherapy drugs and quite quickly becomes immune to treatment.

“Our 3-D modelling in test tubes replicates the cancer cells’ behaviour and under microscopic conditions we can see how it works and our understanding of the cancer has greatly improved.

“We have also identified two enzymes that when present in a tumour make the cancer resistant to chemotherapy.

“This is a very significant step forward because once we know how and why ovarian cancer is resistant to chemotherapy we can then work on possible solutions.”

In Queensland each year, around 248 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 137 women die from the disease.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said it was imperative for all Queensland women to be aware of the risks of ovarian cancer.

“Although we know the causes of ovarian cancer, it’s important for all women to be aware of the symptoms and to discuss them with their GP,” Ms Clift said.

“Persistent abdominal pain, pelvic or back pain, tiredness, feeling full and/or having difficulty eating, cramps or swelling and a change in bowel habits can all be symptoms of ovarian cancer.”

More information about Cancer Council Queensland and ovarian cancer is available at or Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.

For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift, Executive Manager, Media and Spokesperson, Cancer Council Queensland
Ph: (07) 3634 5372 or 0409 001 171