Finding the answer for ovarian cancer

30 August 2021

For Professor Kelly Anne Phillips, research is all about questions. For more than 25 years, the medical oncologist and cancer researcher has been trying to answer the unanswerable in pursuit of better health outcomes for women.

Now, Professor Phillips is the Principal Investigator for STICs and STONEs, a preventative trial for women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation and at higher family risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. STICs and STONEs is a collaboration between ANZGOG and the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at The University of Sydney.

While cancer itself can present a range of complex questions, Professor Phillips thinks part of the answer to ovarian cancer might actually be quite simple – aspirin.

“We know that aspirin can be a useful medication to reduce the risk of some cancers, and some early data suggests that this might be true for ovarian cancer,” she says.

Professor Phillips and her team are trying to prove whether aspirin can reduce ovarian cancer risk in women who are at high risk of the disease because they have inherited an abnormality in a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene that predisposes them to breast and ovarian cancer.

“If we do, aspirin will be another tool in our kit to help these women prevent cancer,” Professor Phillips says.

Currently, doctors recommend that women with an abnormal BRCA1 gene have their tubes and ovaries surgically removed between the ages of 35 and 40, and by about 45 for BRCA2. While this surgery can be lifesaving, it also has many implications for women who are hoping to have children during this time.

Aspirin will not replace surgery, but it could help some women, particularly those with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, buy some time to complete childbearing before they need to have their tubes and ovaries removed.

STICs and STONEs is one of 10 open clinical trials that ANZGOG is conducting. These trials need to secure significant funding before they can start, which is why WomenCan’s fundraising initiatives, like Honour Her, are so vital.

Professor Phillips has seen first-hand what a difference research can make for women affected by gynaecological cancer, and gets energy and inspiration from her daily interactions with patients.

“I have been doing this for over 25 years now, and research has completely transformed the prevention and treatment of cancer over that time,” Professor Phillips says. “It really is quite astonishing to look back and see what has changed, and how outcomes have improved. But we can, and should, always do better, and research is how we will get there!”

You can support Professor Phillips and other researchers to enable women to live better and live longer, by making a kind donation to the Honour Her campaign.