Dec. 11, 2009 -- All ovarian cancers are not the same, and a new study suggests gene testing of ovarian tumors may soon allow for more effective ovarian cancer treatment.
Researchers found a gene called MAGP2, which has not previously been associated with any type of cancer, was overexpressed in the most fatal types of ovarian cancer. They also found evidence that may explain how MAGP2 promotes aggressive tumor growth.
“Ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed at an advanced stage when it is incurable, and the same treatments have been used for virtually all patients,” researcher Michael Birrer, MD, PhD, director of medical gynecologic oncology in the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, says in a news release. “By confirming that different ovarian tumors have distinctive gene signatures that can predict patient prognosis, this study marks the beginning of individualized care for ovarian cancer.”
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer in women in the U.S. and the most lethal form of cancer affecting female organs.
The majority of ovarian cancer deaths are caused by papillary serous tumors, which account for about 60% of all ovarian cancer cases. These types of ovarian cancer tumors are typically diagnosed after the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries to the surrounding organs.
Papillary serous tumors are difficult to treat and often return after standard treatment with surgery and chemotherapy.
In the study, published in Cancer Cell, researchers genetically screened samples from 53 advanced papillary serous ovarian cancer tumors.
They found the MAGP2 gene was overexpressed in the tumors of women who died most quickly from their cancer. Further testing showed MAGP2 levels were also higher than normal in another group of ovarian cancer tumors, but not in normal ovarian tissue.
Levels of MAGP2 were lower in women whose tumors responded well to chemotherapy.
Researchers say the findings suggest that overexpression of MAGP2 leads the cancerous cells to migrate and spread to other tissues. The gene may also play a critical role in the growth of the tumor's blood supply.
"MAGP2 and the biochemical pathways it contributes to are definitely targets for new types of therapies," Birrer says in the release. "But first we need to validate these findings in samples from patients treated in clinical trials.”