Based on the National Cancer Registry published in 2019, ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women in Malaysia.
Approximately 1,200 new ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed every year in our country.
Unlike breast or cervical cancer where screening can aid in early detection, ovarian cancer is more lethal as there is no effective screening tool for this cancer.
As a result, over half of patients are diagnosed with advanced disease (stages 3 and 4).
Studies suggest that up to one in five cases of ovarian cancer occur because of a genetic mutation in the woman’s BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
BRCA is an abbreviation for “BReast CAncer gene”.
These two genes produce proteins that are responsible for repairing damaged DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and play an important role in maintaining the genetic stability of cells.
When either of these genes is mutated, causing its protein pro-duct to either not be made or not function correctly, any DNA damage is not repaired properly, causing the affected cells to become unstable.
As a result, they are more likely to develop additional genetic mutations that can lead to either breast or ovarian cancer.
Surgery, along with chemotherapy, is the main treatment option for ovarian cancer, and can be curative if the cancer is in its early stages.
Although not used very frequently, radiotherapy may sometimes also be given to kill off any remaining cancer cells after surgery or to help shrink the tumour if the cancer cannot be eradicated.
Certain types of ovarian cancers can also be treated with targeted therapies known as poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors.
One of these is olaparib, an oral drug that is used after platinum chemotherapy to either stop the cancer from returning or to keep it from growing, i.e. maintenance therapy.
It is used specifically in patients who have BRCA mutations and works by exploiting deficiencies in the tumour’s DNA damage response (DDR) pathway to preferentially kill cancer cells.
However, this drug does not come cheap.
To address this issue, the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) and AstraZeneca Malaysia – one of the developers of olaparib – recently launched the BRCA Can Give programme.
This corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative aims to provide the appropriate ovarian cancer patients in public hospitals with compassionate access to olaparib.
Says NCSM president Dr Saunthari Somasundaram: “Through our work spanning over 53 years, we understand and deeply feel the magnitude of challenges faced by cancer patients and the amount of help they need in getting proper access to medicines and treatment.
“This initiative, which takes a whole-of-society approach between the public and private sectors, and us, a not-for-profit organisation, helps overcome that hurdle.
“By working together, our aim is to ensure that patients with advanced ovarian cancer get access to life-saving innovative medication.”
AstraZeneca Malaysia country president Dr Sanjeev Panchal notes: “The launch of BRCA Can Give is certainly an avenue for us to reach out to ovarian cancer patients and ensure that our medicines are accessible to those who need them the most, but are unable to afford treatment due to financial constraints.”