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I had 3 years to live after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer

When Anne Ainsworth was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2014, she was shocked to discover the statistic on low survival.

But the 60-year-old says a drug called niraparib “gave me back my life” – and it will now help thousands more women every year.

Anne Ainsworth, 60, said a new ovarian cancer drug called niraparib “gave me my life back”. She is pictured recently
Anne with her son George (L), her daughter Peggy (center), her son Harry (R) and her husband Bernard (R)

Anne with her son George (L), her daughter Peggy (center), her son Harry (R) and her husband Bernard (R)

Drug watchdog Nice says the NHS should offer patients the daily pill that can keep tumors under control for years, it was announced yesterday.

It was named by Target Ovarian Cancer as the biggest ovarian cancer treatment breakthrough in decades. In England, around 3,000 more people are likely to benefit from it every year.

It is given to women diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer to prevent tumors from growing back after chemotherapy.

Preliminary test results show that it can keep the disease in check for an average of six months longer than placebo treatments.

And some women are still in remission more than three years later – allowing them to lead near-normal lives.

Ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer” because in most cases it is diagnosed late. The symptoms are often confused with other less severe conditions.

Anne, a Wiltshire teacher and mother of three children, aged 20, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2014.

She told The Sun, “I was utterly stunned to find out something was seriously wrong with me and I might only look at three more years of life. The ovarian cancer statistics are just appalling.”

After treatment, Anne’s cancer returned in 2018.

She received more chemotherapy before joining the niraparib trial to help keep the disease at bay longer.

She said, “The fact that I have two extra years is great.

“It may not sound like great, but for a cancer patient, especially with what they call the ‘silent killer’, it’s just amazing.

“I feel great and confident enough to plan my retirement as I’m thinking about now. I can look forward to the next few years.

“Even if my cancer comes back tomorrow, I’ll have chemotherapy, a little later then.

“I feel very lucky that I can have it – it gave me my life back.”

Anne’s story

Anne had no symptoms prior to her diagnosis in 2014, other than a few bleeding, which caused her GP to look for scans.

She said, “It was only a few days after I saw my GP. I walked away from them thinking I had a hormonal imbalance only to suddenly have a massive tumor on the scan.”

Anne introduced herself with her daughter Peggy, 28, and husband Bernard, 61, while taking niraparib

Anne introduced herself with her daughter Peggy, 28, and husband Bernard, 61, while taking niraparib

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries, which are a small pair of organs found in the female pelvic cavity.

They are an important part of the female reproductive system as they attach to the womb and store eggs.

When you have ovarian cancer, the cells in or around your ovaries begin to grow abnormally, which can lead to tumors.

Ovarian cancer can affect one or both ovaries, and there are several types that can affect women of all ages.

Things to look out for are:

  • A swollen stomach
  • I feel bloated all the time
  • Having to urinate frequently
  • Discomfort in your stomach or pelvic area
  • Feeling full quickly while eating

“They told me the tumor just blocked everything. They couldn’t see the ovaries.”

But it wasn’t until after surgery to remove the tumor that Anne and her family, including husband Bernard, 61, discovered she had ovarian cancer.

Anne said, “They send it to the lab and don’t give you results until two weeks later.

“We found out on Christmas Eve that I had stage 3c cancer, which is a fairly advanced cancer.

“It was a real shock. I had no idea. I just thought I had always been so healthy.”

In January 2015, Anne began her first chemotherapy – six courses three weeks apart.

She then took a maintenance drug that she had to take to the hospital every 3 months for 18 months for an IV.

But then, in September 2018, blood tests that resulted in scans showed that her cancer had returned.

Anne said, “I had chemotherapy again and in the end my counselor said this new drug is on the block. How do you feel about trying it?”

“I’ve read all of the research I could understand, and it seemed like a pretty good deal to me.”

Anne started taking niraparib in December 2018 and has been using it since then.

Anne, pictured with her son Harry when she graduated, said: "The fact that I have two extra years is great.

Anne, pictured with her son Harry when she graduated, said: “The fact that I have two extra years is great.
Anne and her husband.  She said:  "I feel very lucky that I can have it - it gave me my life back."

Anne and her husband. She said, “I feel very happy that I can have it – it gave me my life back.”

She said, “You have chemotherapy first, so it damages the cancer cells, and then niraparib prevents them from repairing themselves.

“There are so few treatments for ovarian cancer, I just thought I was so lucky to get this.

“I got this disease at the right time for something to happen. I was thrilled that there was something new with a little hope.”

Anne said she felt privileged to have been part of the process, adding, “I’m very excited for those who have been newly diagnosed and have new hope.

“The fact that people can have this as a first-line maintenance drug instead of going to the hospital and drinking a drop every three weeks to keep it in check like I did is just wonderful.

“You can pretty much live normally, which is what I do.”

‘Important Milestone’

Niraparib, made by drug giant GSK, was previously only available to women whose disease had returned.

Annwen Jones of Target Ovarian Cancer charity said, “Today’s announcement marks a major milestone in the fight against ovarian cancer and brings hope during a pandemic where we have serious concerns about how many women are being diagnosed late

“It is the first time that thousands of women have benefited from this innovative drug from the start of treatment.

“We haven’t had as many breakthrough drugs at our disposal since the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel – taxol – was introduced in the 1990s.”

What are the statistics for ovarian cancer?

In the UK, around 7,500 women develop ovarian cancer each year and 4,100 die from the disease.

For women in the UK, ovarian cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer death.

Only 11 percent of ovarian cancer cases are preventable.

More than one in three women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in England is predicted to survive their disease for ten years or more (2013-2017).

More than 25 percent of women with stage 3 cancer survive 5 years or more after diagnosis.

For women with level 4 it is 15 percent.

This week, Prof. Jonathan Ledermann of University College London said, “Today’s decision marks a turning point in the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer that will allow clinicians to apply key therapy earlier in treatment and in many more women than ever before.

“This could greatly increase the likelihood that we can delay a woman’s cancer progression – for months, maybe even years, longer than is currently possible.

“Maintenance therapy has already changed the way we treat ovarian cancer, and the decision to recommend niraparib is another important step along the way.”

In the UK, around 7,500 women develop ovarian cancer each year and 4,100 die from the disease.

Two thirds of patients are diagnosed late – when the tumor has already spread and is possibly incurable.

Victoria Clare of the Ovacome charity said, “Today’s news will bring deep relief to many women with advanced ovarian cancer and reassurance that they can access the therapy they need at the NHS.

“It is important that women are given every opportunity to live the fullest possible life for as long as possible.

“This is what today’s decision offers and why it is so important to so many women.”

Marc Clausse of drug company GSK said, “Maintenance therapy has become a mainstay in the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer. Making sure it’s available as early as possible is key to keeping this debilitating cancer at bay for as long as possible.

“At GSK we are very proud to be part of this historic milestone that brings us one step closer to our goal of maximizing the survival and quality of life for people with cancer in the UK.”

Ovarian cancer sufferers praised the miracle pill, which slows the disease down by up to a year

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Dr Steve Vasilev MD
“I help and guide women to defeat gynecologic cancers and advanced pelvic conditions such as endometriosis, using a unique combination of minimally invasive robotic surgery, precision medicine therapies and complementary holistic natural support towards thriving in survivorship." Dr. Vasilev is the only physician quadruple board certified in Ob-Gyn, Gynecologic Oncology and Integrative & Holistic Medicine in the United States. He is an accomplished advanced robotic surgeon and serves as Medical Director of Integrative Medicine and Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John's Health Center, Professor at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California and is Clinical Professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He is former faculty and professor at UC Irvine, UCLA, USC and City of Hope. He is an active member of multiple medical societies and has been nationally listed in "Best Doctors" for 18 years.

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