Women with certain types of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) might have an overall increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. These genetic differences could underlie the differences in response to immunotherapy in patients with ovarian cancer. The HLA system is a group of genes that help modulate the body’s immune system.1

“Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecologic malignancy, with greater than 75% of patients succumbing to their disease within 5 years of diagnosis,” said senior author Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, deputy director, M. Steven Piver Professor, and chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and executive director of the Center of Immunotherapy at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York.

“Immunotherapy has emerged as a promising and powerful tool in the fight against ovarian cancer. This research offers important insights into how to understand and employ the immune system to more effectively fight this disease.”

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This study, published in Gynecologic Oncology, identified 126 patients with ovarian cancer undergoing treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. These patients underwent HLA testing between January 2002 and December 2012 to determine eligibility for several clinical trials.

Researchers wanted to determine whether HLA subtypes differ between patients with ovarian cancer with or without spontaneous immune response to NY-ESO-1, a protein found at high levels in cancer tissues but not in healthy tissues.

Patients with the HLA subtype called B27 were more likely than the general population to develop ovarian cancer (P < .001). Patients with the B44 subtype of HLA had worse prognoses.

“The clinical significance of an association between specific HLA subtypes and the risk of developing ovarian cancer cannot be overstated, as this may represent a new population of patients at risk for the disease. Larger studies are needed to evaluate the potential impact of these results,” said J. Brian Szender, MD, MPH, Department of Gynecologic Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and first author of the study.


1. Szender JB, Eng KH, Matsuzaki J, et al. HLA superfamily assignment is a predictor of immune response to cancer testis antigens and survival in ovarian cancer [published online April 22, 2016]. Gynecol Oncol. doi:10.1016/j.ygyno.2016.04.017.