Cancer // A world without ovarian cancer

After practicing obstetrics and gynaecology for almost 40 years, Dr. Chew Wei was dismayed by the prognosis for women with ovarian cancer. In 1985, three years before he retired to Vancouver from Hong Kong, 1,136 Canadian women died of ovarian cancer. Even today, the disease takes the lives of far too many women. An estimated 1,750 women in Canada will die of ovarian cancer in 2011.

Dr. Chew Wei was not a cancer specialist, but he was determined to do what he could to improve the health outcomes of women with ovarian cancer around the world. After Dr. Chew Wei died in 2009, his family and friends honoured his intentions by endowing the Dr. Chew Wei MBBS [HK] FRCOG [ENG] Memorial Professorship in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Faculty of Medicine investigators with British Columbia’s world-renowned Ovarian Cancer Research Program, OvCaRe, have a proven track-record of ground-breaking discoveries that improve patient care for women with ovarian cancer.

OvCaRe discovered that at least two-thirds of high-grade serous tumours in the ovaries originated in the fallopian tubes. The implications are huge — removing the fallopian tubes of women who carry a genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer or who are already undergoing a hysterectomy or tubal ligation could reduce the incidence of ovarian cancer by as much as 50 per cent. OvCaRe is well-connected to the network of gynaecologists in BC, enabling the team to effectively spread the new knowledge and promote the life-saving change in practice.

Kim Wiegand, a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and a trainee with OvCaRe, made a major scientific breakthrough that substantially improved our understanding of ovarian cancer. She identified mutations in ARID1A, a new cancer gene involved in two types of ovarian cancer that account for one quarter of all cases in North America. The next step is to search for therapeutic targets in tumours that carry an ARID1A defect, which will be assisted by the latest in sequencing technology purchased for OvCaRe with an additional donation from a grateful patient of Dr. Chew Wei.

Dr. Chew Wei’s family and friends are enabling the next generation of Faculty of Medicine investigators to advance our knowledge of ovarian cancer to reduce its burden on women and their families.