|| DukeMedNews || Ovarian Cancer

Background: The scientists believe that constant ovulation, which causes cells in the ovary to divide, is likely to spontaneously damage DNA in those cells over time. That can result in mutations to a critical regulatory gene, known as p53, that normally stops cells from proliferating into cancer. The findings indicate that some women at risk for this type of cancer can protect themselves by reducing their ovulation cycles through birth control pills, pregnancy and breast-feeding.

Ovarian cancer is usually a fatal disease because it is usually found in its late stages, after it has spread beyond the ovaries. In 1996, about 27,000 new cases were diagnosed, and about 14,800 women died of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Mean survival after detection is less than 3 years. Tumors that show evidence of p53 genetic mutation account for half of all ovarian cancer cases, and are considered the most aggressive form of ovarian cancer.

Suggested lead: Studies have shown that women who take birth control pills and have children have a reduced risk of getting ovarian cancer. And now, researchers at Duke University Medical Center say they’ve figured out why. Melinda Stubbee reports.

SOQ…:60

Berchuk says they believe that constant ovulation, which causes cells in the ovary to divide, is likely to spontaneously damage DNA in those cells over time. He says that can result in mutations to a critical regulatory gene, known as p53, that normally stops cells from proliferating into cancer.

Cut 1…p53 mutations…:13
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Berchuk says when a woman ovulates, the egg that is extruded from the ovary blows a hole in the surface of the ovary. The epithelial cells, where the cancer starts, line the surface of the ovary and they have to proliferate to fill in the hole.

Cut 2…ovarian cancer…:08
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In Cut 3, Berchuk says the Duke study is novel because it takes a “molecular epidemiology” approach to the disease, in order to link risk factors seen over a population of patients to alterations in the biology of the cell.

Cut 3…ovarian cancer…:20
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The study helps clear up the mystery of why it seems that some women, but not all, can protect themselves against ovarian cancer by suppressing ovulation, the investigators say. The lead author of the study is Joellen Schildkraut, assistant professor in community and family medicine and a researcher at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Berchuk says this is one of the first studies to show that ovarian cancer is really a collection of a number of different cancers. Each subgroup will have its own risk factors, which can help physicians tailor protective strategies and specific treatments.