WebMD Medical News
Laura J. Martin, MD
Sept. 20, 2010 -- A newly-discovered group of genes may help predict a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Researchers say the results may eventually provide a way to more effectively identify and treat women prone to the disease. They also suggest that breast and ovarian cancer may share some of the same genetic risk factors.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women in developed countries and often goes undetected until it's in an advanced stage. As a result, ovarian cancer causes more deaths in the U.S. than all other gynecological cancers combined. About 13,000 women in the U.S. die from ovarian cancer each year.
“These latest findings raise the possibility that in the future, women in the general population who are at the greatest risk of developing ovarian cancer because they carry these newly discovered DNA variants can be identified and given closer surveillance to look for early signs of ovarian cancer when it is most treatable,” says researcher Andrew Berchuck, MD, professor of gynecologic oncology at Duke University Medical Center, in a news release. “It also suggests that preventive approaches could be targeted towards these women.”
In two separate studies involving nearly 11,000 women with ovarian cancer, researchers identified genetic variants in five DNA regions (chromosomes 2, 3, 8, 17, and 19) of the genome that affect the risk of ovarian cancer.
The results, published in Nature Genetics, show four out of the five genetic variations were more common in women who had the most aggressive form of ovarian cancer.
Some of these DNA regions have already been implicated in other types of cancer.
“Common genetic ‘typos’ at 8q24 have already been shown to render some people vulnerable to prostate, colorectal, breast and bladder cancers, so it’s not too surprising that there may be something there related to ovarian cancer," says researcher Ellen Goode, PhD, a genetic epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, in a news release.
"What is surprising is that we found that three of the most common [genetic variations] for ovarian cancer lie quite a distance away from this bunch of troublemakers - in an apparent gene desert - which suggests they may be causing functional problems by a very different mechanism,” Goode says.
Researchers say the findings suggest that the same genetic region may play a role in both breast and ovarian cancer.
"This is important because it suggests that women who carry certain versions of this stretch of DNA could benefit from closer monitoring for both breast and ovarian cancers,” says researcher Simon Gayther, PhD, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in a news release.
SOURCES:Goode, E and Bolton, K. Nature Genetics, Sept. 19, 2010; online advance edition.News release, Nature Journals.News release. Duke University.News release, University of Southern California.News release, Mayo Clinic.
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