Each year, around 14,000 U.S. deaths are attributed to ovarian cancer. Yet researchers have historically struggled to find an exact cause of the cancer, or to understand exactly how it grows and evolves within the body. However, according to News Medical, recent research from Professor Levi Waldron strengthens this understanding. In his study, published in Cancer Research, Waldron unpacks the overall process of tumorigenesis (the production or formation of tumors).
While doctors aren’t sure of the exact cause of ovarian cancer, it sometimes occurs through BRCA gene mutations. Ovarian cancer forms in the ovary, a female sex organ that stores eggs and produces hormones. There are four types of ovarian cancer dependent on where the cancer is found. For example, while epithelial tumors occur in the thin ovarian tissue covering, stroll cell carcinoma tumors start in connective tissue. Small cell carcinoma of the ovary (SCCO) is the rarest form, making up only 0.1% of cases. Additionally, ovarian cancer progresses in four stages; by the final stage, the cancer has usually spread to other parts of the body.
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal and pelvic pain
- Changes in urinary frequency
- Menstrual irregularities
- Abdominal swelling or distension
- Tender breasts
- Abnormal bleeding
Learn more about ovarian cancer here.
According to Waldron, one of the past difficulties of understanding tumor evolution is the inability to consistently observe tumor growth within the body. However, he wondered if tracking different stages of evolution, and determine tumor subtype, could assist with a deeper understanding and more targeted therapies.
Some cancers have different molecular subtypes. So, Waldron and his research team sought to understand whether a specific subtype stays the same throughout the entirety of its evolution or if it ever changes. Using genomic data to determine cancerous subtypes, alongside single cell RNA sequencing, the team determined that:
previous ideas of discrete subtypes were overly simplistic and unlikely to progress our understanding, prevention, or treatment of this disease.
However, researchers now see that ovarian cancer tumor development includes a variety of mutations and sub clones. Additionally, levels of stromal and immune cells can tell researchers how far along a tumor has progressed, as well as where the tumor initially began.