Genetic links found to ovarian cancer

Cutting edge research results in new clues

TAMPA - Nancy Scheidt is at Moffitt Cancer Center to begin another round of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. "No one in my family that I know of has ever had ovarian cancer."

So she never saw this disease coming. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among women.  

Dr. Thomas Sellers led a local team of researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center, included in an international group, looking to use genetics to identify high-risk women.

He said, "The bad news about ovarian cancer is we don't have any way to detect it early, and so most women are presenting with advanced-stage disease.  The goal of our research was to identify how women differ from each other in terms of their susceptibility to ovarian cancer. We've been trying to identify the genetic basis for that."

After 15 years of research by 200 scientists from all over the world, their findings have been recently published.  Sellers says, "What we have found are six new genetic regions across the genome that appear to influence whether a woman will get ovarian cancer."

The goal is to be able to tell women the risk they have of developing ovarian cancer.  If realized, women at risk could take some steps to lower their risk. 

Dr. Sellers said if you take oral contraceptives, that lowers your risk by 50 percent.  If you have your tubes tied, that lowers your risk by 80 percent, and if you have your ovaries removed, that lowers your risk of ever getting ovarian cancer by 99 percent.

But not everyone wants to remove their ovaries, especially if they haven't had kids. But for someone like Nancy - knowing her risk factor would have been priceless. She says, "I had a hysterectomy when I was forty, but they did not remove my ovaries because they were healthy at the time. But if I had known I had a genetic type risk for it, I'm sure my doctor at that point would have done a total hysterectomy and removed the ovaries and everything."

The study was recently published in Nature Genetics.  Local women, both with and without ovarian cancer, enrolled in the study and their DNA was included in the genotyping.

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