What is a PARP Inhibitor, and why is it such a ground-breaking option for women with Ovarian Cancer?

23 Aug 2021

For the thousands of women battling ovarian cancer in Australia, the treatment options have, in the last few years, expanded to include a new class of drug called PARP inhibitors.

These work by targeting the DNA of cancer cells.

Once offered primarily to women whose ovarian cancer included a BRCA gene mutation, the benefits of PARP inhibitors are starting to be seen and made available to a wider range of women affected by the disease.

All types of PARP inhibitor drugs are administered orally, and women can take them at home or in a care setting after working through the risks and benefits with their healthcare team.

When diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and considering a PARP inhibitor as a treatment option, a number of factors will influence whether this is a suitable option for you, including the specific genetic make-up of your cancer, your disease stage, whether your cancer had a positive response to platinum-based chemotherapy, and your ability to tolerate the side effects of the drug.

Facts About PARP Inhibitors:

    • PARP inhibitors are a relatively new class of drug providing hope for some ovarian cancer patients
    • Initially only used for women with a BRCA gene mutation or advanced disease, we are seeing exciting developments with the use of this targeted therapy across a range of cancer areas
    • PARP inhibitors are now being offered to many women affected by ovarian cancer as part of an initial course of maintenance therapy following surgery and chemotherapy
    • Women who have BRCA mutations and are HRD positive receive much greater benefit when taking PARP inhibitors
    • Side effects of PARP inhibitors can be challenging to manage
    • PARP inhibitors are taken in a pill form, rather than through an intravenous line

How does a PARP Inhibitor work?

PARP inhibitors work by targeting a specific enzyme that compromise’s the cancer cells ability to repair themselves and replicate. Women with ovarian cancer who stand to benefit the most from PARP inhibitors carry the BRCA mutation which is associated with an increased risk of both ovarian and breast cancer, however, research is continuing to discover the benefits of this treatment option for women who fall outside of these criteria.

PARP Inhibitors are also being used to help suppress the reoccurrence of ovarian cancer, possibly extending the life expectancy of patients and giving them more precious time with their loved ones.

Whilst taking PARP inhibitors, you will have your blood count monitored regularly, similar to what you would have done whilst on chemotherapy, to ensure you are not developing low haemoglobin or anaemia, making sure the platelet counts remain normal, and the white count of the infection-fighting cells remain steady.

The ongoing research into and availability of PARP inhibitors is an exciting and promising development for ovarian cancer patients.