In the first study, published in Journal of Clinical Oncology (2010 Apr 20 [Epub ahead of print]), researcher found that because patients with hereditary ovarian cancer are more likely to experience secondary tumors in their liver and spleen, detecting faulty genes may improve treatment for these patients. The study suggests that ovarian cancer patients whose tumors spread to the solid organs, such as the liver and lungs, should be tested for faulty genes to ensure that they are given the most appropriate treatment. 

“We are beginning to understand the importance of tailoring cancer treatments according to the specifics of each patient’s tumour,” said Charlie Gourley, who led the study conducted at the University of Edinburgh. “These findings demonstrate that tumours which arise because of defects in the BRAC1 or BRAC2 genes behave differently to other ovarian cancers. This information should also help us to identify the patients carrying these genetic mutations, give them the most effective treatment fortheir cancer, and offer their relatives genetic counseling.” 

In a second study, presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, researchers showed that taxanes may be used to treat ovarian cells lines that overexpressed the spleen tyrosine kinase (SYK).

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The study, led by Aya Sultan, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, found SYK overexpression in 74% of 57 ovarian cancers, but SYK overexpression was absent from 73% of 68 breast cancers. In 6 out of 10 ovarian carcinoma cell lines, SYK was expressed.

“Our results demonstrate that knockdown of SYK expression by small interfering RNA resulted in a one log-fold increased sensitivity of OVCAR-3 cells to the taxane, paclitaxel,” reported Dr. Sultan. “Furthermore, this effect was durable, as knockdown of SYK and sensitization to paclitaxel persisted over 168 hours.”

Both studies demonstrate how scientists have taken steps forward in the understanding of ovarian cancer.