Research at Edinburgh University has revealed that a hormone therapy treatment used to tackle breast tumours can also be successful in combating ovarian cancer.
The study found that patients' lives could be prolonged by up to three years by using an anti-oestrogen drug. It also delayed the need for chemotherapy in some patients. It has been described by some as "a landmark".
Professor John F Smyth, head of research, said: "Despite intense scientific research over the past 20 years, there have been few new leads in our understanding of how this disease operates.
"But this study suggests that the addition of hormone therapy to our treatment strategy could extend and improve the lives of women with cancer."
Almost 7,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are being diagnosed in the UK every year with one in 48 women falling victim to the disease at some point. Current treatment involves surgery and chemotherapy, but most ovarian cancers return within two years. The new treatment, known as Letrozole hormone therapy, has already been successful in dealing with breast tumours. It turns off the supply of the hormone oestrogen, a substance which is essential for the growth of some cancers.
Scientists were able to track the progress of the tumours during treatment by looking at levels of a molecule in the blood which is secreted by ovarian cancer. A quarter of the women tested showed no tumour growth after six months of the therapy, while almost one third of the group most sensitive to oestrogen showed a positive response, allowing chemotherapy to be delayed.