A boost in ovarian-cancer battle


Ovarian-cancer survival may be predicted by the levels of two proteins in the body, a new study shows, while other recent research suggests that more women's lives might be saved by using existing tests to diagnose persistent symptoms that might indicate the presence of the so-called "silent killer."

Scientists at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said in a report this week that low levels of both atypical protein kinase C iota and Cyclin E corresponded to a better chance of long-term survival for patients.

Meanwhile, this week's issue of the journal Cancer published a separate study that showed doctors should consider specific tests for ovarian cancer when patients complain of unexplained or long-term symptoms such as abdominal and pelvic pain.

Ovarian cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in U.S. women, and an estimated $1.8 billion a year is spent treating it, according to the National Cancer Institute's Web site. Researchers in both studies pointed to the need for improved, early diagnosis of the disease.

"Ovarian cancer is a really tough diagnosis to make," said Lloyd H. Smith, professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Davis.

About 22,220 U.S. women will receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer this year, and 16,210 women will die of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute's Web site.

In a study of 400 tumor biopsies, the M.D. Anderson researchers found that low levels of the PKCi and Clycin E proteins were associated with a better survival rate, while high levels pushed the rate down to 15 percent, according to a study in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Studying the protein levels and function may also lead to a therapy someday, lead researcher Gordon Mills said this week.

Based on tumor samples, investigators "found that those with low levels of PKCi and Cyclin E have a remarkably good outcome, while the opposite is true for higher levels," Mills, chairman of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, wrote in the journal.

The investigators received funding from the National Cancer Institute and the Energy Department.

As much as 90 percent of women survive ovarian cancer when it's caught soon enough, said Smith, who led the second study. Previous research showed most patients have symptoms an average of 13 months before diagnosis, the researchers said in this week's Cancer journal.

The California Cancer Registry financed the second study, and the researchers donated their time, Smith said.

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