Researchers Identify Gene Involved in Ovarian Cancer
Researchers have found that a gene called OPCML appears to be involved in ovarian cancer. In a recent study, the OPCML gene was found to switched off in 90% of ovarian cancer cases analyzed by researchers. Furthermore, experiments show that when a functioning OPCML is inserted into ovarian cancer tissue, the gene greatly suppresses cancer growth. The researchers say that these discoveries represent an exciting advance in ovarian cancer research which could potentially help them develop methods for preventing the disease in some women.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately one out of 57 women will develop ovarian cancer during their lifetime. Like many cancers, ovarian cancer can be highly treatable if detected in early stages. However, many cases of ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until advanced stages. This is because the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very subtle ("silent") or unnoticeable until the disease has progressed significantly.
In a study published in the July 2003 issue of Nature Genetics, Dr. Hani Gabra of Cancer Research U.K. and colleagues discuss the identification of the OPCML gene. In normal ovarian cells, the OPCML gene appears to suppress the growth of cancer. However, this gene was "switched off" in nearly 90% ovarian cancer tumors that were tested in the study. Laboratory experiments also show that injecting a normal, working OPCML gene into ovarian cancer tissue can halt the growth of cancer.
"This is a very important discovery in identifying what seems to be a key tumor suppressor gene in ovarian cancer," said Dr. Gabra, in a Cancer Research UK news release.
"We have found that these genes are frequently 'switched off' at very early stages of the disease and fail to make essential proteins. But when we switch these genes back on in the cancer cells, tumors are suppressed."
Early detection is the key to surviving ovarian cancer. Currently, only 25% of ovarian cancer cases are detected at an early stage. Indigestion, nausea, or changes in bowel movements are the most common signs of ovarian cancer. Women who have ovarian cancer may or may not experience pelvic pain. The following symptoms may be associated with ovarian cancer:
"[This research] takes us further in the urgent quest to find a method for earlier diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer," said Dr. Gabra. "We now need to work on understanding more about this gene and exactly how it works and what makes it switch off."
According to Cancer Research UK, the research may help scientists learn more about the onset and development of ovarian cancer. In the future, it may even be possible to develop drugs to replicate the effects of OPCML, helping to prevent the disease in some women.
At this time, research on the OPCML gene is still in preliminary stages. Nonetheless, the study offers promising new information on a complex disease with a low survival rate.