A drug used to treat skin and lung cancers could also cut the chance of dying from a type of ovarian cancer, a new study suggests.
The drug – called trametinib – slowed the progression of cancer and helped boost the number of women responding to treatment.
Researchers say the findings are so impressive that the treatment should now be considered the standard of care for this rare type of cancer, known as low grade serous ovarian cancer.
This form of the disease occurs mostly in young women, is difficult to treat, and is often not diagnosed until at an advanced stage.
According to the study, trametinib reduced the risk of disease progression or death by 52% compared with hormonal treatment or chemotherapy.
It further found that progression of the cancer was slowed by 13 months for patients on the drug, compared with seven months for those on standard care.
Trametinib was also associated with a fourfold increase in response to treatment compared with those who received standard care, the study suggests.
Annwen Jones, chief executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This is extremely positive news for the ovarian cancer community.
“Low grade serous ovarian cancer disproportionately affects those under the age of 50.
“Standard treatments are generally less effective for this sub-type and there is a very urgent need to develop new drugs to transform outcomes.”
Professor Charlie Gourley, clinical director, Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, University of Edinburgh and senior author, said: “These findings represent a step change in the management of this difficult to treat cancer.
“We now need to build on this to provide further improvements in outcome for these patients.”
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre carried out a randomised clinical trial involving 260 women from the UK and USA with low serous grade ovarian cancer.
Half of them were given trametinib and half received standard care of either hormone therapy or chemotherapy.
Researchers then assessed the effect on the tumours using CT or MRI scans every eight weeks for the first 15 months of treatment and every three months after.
The women also completed questionnaires on quality of life throughout the study.
The study, published in The Lancet, found that those who received trametinib reported a slightly lower quality of life at 12 weeks compared with those on standard care.
It was funded by Target Ovarian Cancer, Cancer Research UK, Novartis and NRG Oncology.