Chemotherapy Hypersensitivity Reactions in Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. Chemotherapy using a taxane and platinum combination is key in improving survival in patients with newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer and is also used to treat recurrent platinum-sensitive disease. However, hypersensitivity reactions (HSRs) to chemotherapeutic agents are increasingly common and can greatly limit their use. Moreover, because of the frequent lack of equally effective alternative agents, chances of survival can be compromised. Therefore, physicians caring for these patients must be familiar with the management of HSRs to chemotherapy, and major advancements have recently been made in this field. Most HSRs implicate mast cell and basophil activation either through an IgE-mediated (ie, platinum agents) or nonspecific (ie, taxanes) mechanism. Therefore, these reactions have the potential to lead to anaphylaxis, at which time they should be treated with intramuscular epinephrine. Serum tryptase, which is released alongside histamine after mast cell activation, may be measured after an acute HSR to document mast cell involvement. After an HSR, the decision to re-treat with the same agent or a closely related one will vary depending on the causative drug, the type of HSR, and its severity. Drug desensitization has emerged as a safe and effective way of reintroducing a chemotherapeutic agent or monoclonal antibody responsible for an HSR in a patient who is expected to benefit from its continued use and for whom alternatives are considered less effective and/or more toxic. Currently, candidates for desensitization are preferably evaluated in academic settings with expertise in those procedures, because their use is still limited. Efforts are now needed to increase awareness about desensitization procedures so that more patients may benefit. This challenge will require the close collaboration of patients, nurses, oncologists, and allergists.

Correspondence: Mariana Castells, MD, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 1 Jimmy Fund Way, Smith Building, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail: mcastells@partners.org
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