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From technology improvements to promising treatments, advances are on the way.
By Jane E Allen
Experts in the biology of ovarian cancer have long searched for the origins of the disease, with some suspecting that it may begin with the formation of tiny cysts in the covering of the ovary. In a significant development, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the research-oriented Ovarian Cancer Institute reported in February that ovarian cancer cells seem to form by hijacking a genetic process that normally forms the fallopian tubes. Studying healthy and diseased tissue removed during ovarian cancer operations, they found a protein called PAX8, normally associated with fallopian tube formation, in ovarian cancer cells but not in healthy ovarian tissue. The finding means that PAX8 could be a potential target for diagnostic testing and treatment.
Meanwhile, researchers worldwide are trying to identify cellular defects that drive the disease, with the idea of designing treatments that correct them. University of Michigan researchers have improved their understanding of cell defects that lead to the second-most-common form of ovarian malignancy, a hard-to-treat type called ovarian endometrioid adenocarcinoma. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore have found that ovarian tumor cells containing a protein known to spark abnormal cell growth put women at risk of fast, potentially fatal, recurrence. They suggest that testing tumor tissue removed during surgery for this protein, called NAC-1, might identify women at higher risk of accelerated disease.
Detection technology is advancing as well. A combination of positron emission tomography (PET) scans and computed tomography (CT) scans has been proven better at tracking and detecting recurrences than routine CT imaging alone. The findings, presented in June by Australian researchers at the annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine in Washington, D.C., could help gynecologic oncologists remove more cancerous tissue, initiate chemotherapy earlier and extend symptom-free survival, study authors said.