‘Patchwork’ Ovarian Cancer Found To Be Most Deadly
Every year, over 2,000 women in England are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Now Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Cambridge University and Addenbrooke’s Hospital have carried out research that shows which particular form of ovarian cancer is the most dangerous. They revealed that it is more deadly if it consists of a patchwork of genetically different cells, as opposed to a group of similar cells.
In an analysis of 135 samples of ovarian cancers in 14 patients having chemotherapy, the researchers found that women with more varied tumours died sooner and also became more resistant to treatment. They also discovered that drug resistance was sometimes partly caused by pre-existing gene faults – faults that were previously thought to be an effect of chemotherapy.
The term used to describe such a variety of cells is ‘tumour heterogeneity’, which is a result of tumours initially evolving from a single damaged cell, then later developing into a patchwork of different cell groups. This particular research team are the first to measure tumour heterogeneity’s part in cancer survival. The problem with a diversity of cells within a single tumour is that the different cells may respond to treatment dissimilarly, making it more difficult to treat the tumour as a whole. When there are separate sets of DNA errors, some are more resistant to chemotherapy than others.
“Our research is important because it helps make sense of the genetic chaos inside tumours,” says lead researcher Dr James Brenton from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. “It’s another step closer to cracking the code on cancer biology so that we can understand sooner how patients will respond to treatment – and how to develop better drugs for this hard to treat cancer in the future.”
“Finding out more about how tumours evolve and what this means for patients could help us find a way to cut off cancer’s first steps,” says Neil Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager. “Ovarian cancer is often not diagnosed until it has spread in the body, making it harder to treat successfully. And Cancer Research UK is funding research to find ways to screen for the disease to spot it earlier when it is more easily treated successfully, to help save more lives.”