Researchers: Which women are at-risk for ovarian cancer?
Posted September 30, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2010 6:26 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, claiming the lives of approximately 13,000 women every year in the U.S.
It's usually diagnosed at an advanced stage, because there's no approved screening test to catch it early. New research is aimed at finding women most at-risk.
An international consortium of researchers has discovered new genetic variants that affect risk for women in the general population. It could help lead to a model to find women who may benefit most from screening and prevention.
Late last year, 56-year-old Carolyn Talbert saw her doctor for a routine physical.
“He was just mashing on my stomach, and he said, ‘I feel like you've got an enlargement there,’” she recalled.
It was a mass on her ovary, confirmed as cancer, which led to a complete hysterectomy. Talbert went through chemotherapy and then took a blood test to find known genetic markers for the cancer, which turned out negative.
“I wanted to know if I was a carrier so that down the road I'd look after my family,” she said.
That would help future granddaughters know their risk and have early options to prevent ovarian cancer.
Researchers at Duke University and others now have more genetic clues as to which women face greater risk for the disease. Comparing 10,000 women with ovarian cancer and 13,000 without it, they found common DNA variations.
“The goal of this new research is to develop a risk model using these genetic factors, as well as known risk factors like pregnancy and birth control pill use,” said Duke gynecologist/oncologist Dr. Andrew Berchuck.
Berchuck said he imagines a future report card that could help women like Talbert's future granddaughters know if they're at low, moderate or high risk.
“And again, perhaps some of those women would want to avail themselves of surgery before they have a chance to develop ovarian cancer,” he said.
That was an option Talbert didn't have, but she said she hopes it will be available to other women in the future.
Women with a mutation in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes are at increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Anyone who has one or more BRCA relatives, has had breast cancer or ovarian cancer in two or more close relatives, such as a mother or sisters, and possibly has a history of breast or ovarian cancer in family members, often before age 50, may want to seek genetic counseling to see about genetic testing.
The good news is that there are now more genetic clues turning up that can help narrow down which women are most at-risk.