Ovarian cancer uses developmental gene to spread

By • Published: May 21st, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In your body, cancer acts like a hijacker. It reroutes blood vessels to tumors and away from healthy tissue, and basically takes over as it spreads.

Now scientists have discovered another process cancer has co-opted. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology say the disease has found a way to use the gene responsible for forming the fallopian tubes to instead tip the first domino in a chain reaction that leads to ovarian cancer.

Normally, this gene produces a protein that signals the formation of the fallopian tubes in developing baby girls. But when the gene somehow gets turned on in an adult woman’s ovarian cells, the protein signals cells to form a type of cyst.

Most ovarian cysts are benign and don’t cause problems for women. But in women with ovarian cancer, the disease disrupts the normal mechanism that keeps cysts under control, allowing them to grow and spread.

Researchers hope by understanding how this process works they can target tumors better, and eventually stop ovarian cancer from forming.

Ovarian cancer is often called a silent killer because most women have few noticeable symptoms early on. Because early symptoms like stomach pain and vaginal bleeding are common to other conditions, ovarian cancer isn’t usually the first suspect, either.

According to the American Cancer Society, about fifteen-thousand women will die from ovarian cancer this year.

But with scientists on its trail, hopefully ovarian cancer is one captor that will soon be stopped.