Ovarian cancer awareness month has begun with good news at the intersection of cancer and genetic research. In the August issue of Oncogene, one of the world’s leading cancer research journals, Canadian researchers published a new model to identify ovarian cancer genes. This marks a big step toward improving treatment for the disease.
In a news release, Dr. Patricia Tonin, a cancer geneticist at McGill University Health Center in Montreal, says:
Our findings now provide tangible targets for effective drug development. Up to now, there has been little in the way of treatment options for this disease, which is one of the most lethal of cancers.
Tonin’s research focuses on genes important in the progression of ovarian cancer, particularly tumor suppressor genes associated with chromosomes 3 and 17. This research builds on the knowledge that changes in certain genes (including BRCA1 and BRCA2 ) are responsible for an increased risk of developing both ovarian and breast cancers. The National Cancer Institute advises: “Members of families with many cases of these diseases may consider having a special blood test to see if they have a genetic change that increases the risk of these types of cancer.” During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) encourages women to understand that early detection of ovarian cancer is crucial to improving the prognosis of the cancer because treatment is most effective in the early stages of cancer. They recommend that women engage in public dialogue and talk with their physicians about the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages because the symptoms are subtle and can sometimes be attributed to other causes. NOCC points to the alarming lack of awareness of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:
Only 15 percent of women are familiar with the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and 82 percent have never talked to their doctors about the symptoms and risk factors, according to a new national survey sponsored by the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC). Yet, more than 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and more than 15,000 will die from the disease, the most deadly of all women’s reproductive cancers. If caught in the early stages, the five -year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 90 percent, however 75 percent of women are still diagnosed in the advanced stages, when the prognosis is poor. In response to these grim statistics and the alarming gap in knowledge and discussion surrounding the disease, NOCC is launching “Break the Silence,” a national campaign to arm women with tools to begin a dialogue with their physicians and to facilitate earlier diagnosis. ( NOCC press release May 23, 2006)
The breakthrough research on ovarian cancer gives us hope for the future and serves as a good reminder that there are tools are available now — awareness and early diagnosis — to help improve survival rates among women with this disease.