Research spotlight: OVCARE


In December 2000 in the cafeteria at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), Drs. David Huntsman, Dianne Miller, and Blake Gilks sat down to brainstorm how they might improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer. 

Despite conventional research efforts in the field of ovarian cancer – both locally and internationally – there had not yet been a research breakthrough leading to significantly improved outcomes for women with the diagnosis. Most of these women died within five years of receiving the diagnosis, which motivated them to build a multidisciplinary team and core resources to facilitate research. At the time, it was unprecedented to have contrasting perspectives of a pathologist, geneticist, and clinically focused gynaecologic oncologist to tackle this disease.

They presented their plans to the BC Cancer Foundation and the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation. From there, OVCARE was born.

Today this partnership has made OVCARE a global leader in ovarian cancer research. Their findings have had a profound impact not only in British Columbia, but throughout Canada and the world. Their achievements include discovering that ovarian cancer is not a single disease, but is made up of a number of subtypes of ovarian cancer; discovering driver mutations in several rare ovarian and uterine cancers which are now the diagnostic markers for these cancers; developing a prevention protocol adopted in numerous countries; and  leading Vancouver Coastal Health to become the first region in the world to offer patients presenting with ovarian cancer molecular risk assessment for the two common hereditary cancer syndromes.

Among their successes, their ovarian cancer educational campaign has had a huge impact on women’s health around the globe. The campaign was comprised of three key recommendations: 1) To remove the Fallopian tubes at the time of hysterectomy (opportunistic salpingectomy, a term coined by Dr. Dianne Miller); 2) For women who are undergoing tubal ligation for permanent contraception to undergo opportunistic salpingectomy; and 3) For any woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer to be tested for the BRCA mutations, and for her family members to be tested as well so they have the opportunity to undergo preventative surgery.

With these recommended changes in practice OVCARE predicts they can prevent ovarian cancer in up to 40% of cases. Dr. Gillian Hanley is currently using a population-based database in British Columbia to track the incidence of the disease, as well as to see how many women have undergone opportunistic salpingectomy based off of the recommendations. Preliminary findings show that the uptake of recommendations in 2014 rose 80% in British Columbia, which is the highest rate of growth in the country. While it is currently too early to tell if the incidence of ovarian cancer has been reduced, they anticipate that they may have enough data to analyze toward the end of 2019.

OVCARE encourages other researchers in fields outside of ovarian cancer research to take an interest in studying the disease by developing partnerships which provide access to their resources.  Since the start of OVCARE, the team has expanded and now has an active research program on endometrial cancer led by Drs. Jessica McAlpine and Aline Talhouk.

To learn more about OVCARE visit their site.

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