Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Moffitt ovarian cancer research aids international effort

TAMPA — Ovarian cancer has long been called the "silent killer," its symptoms going unnoticed until the disease is so advanced it is all but untreatable.

But what if doctors could predict which women are at highest risk for the cancer — and why?

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have helped identify four DNA hotspots associated with higher risk of developing the fifth-deadliest cancer among women. Two large studies compared the genetic material of more than 18,000 women who had ovarian cancer with that of 26,000 healthy women.

Mutations in the so-called BRCA genes were identified years ago as a high genetic risk factor for breast and ovarian cancers. By zeroing in on new regions of the genome, the Moffitt studies indicate there are other genes or other mechanisms that might contribute to ovarian cancer, said Tom Sellers, Moffitt director and a senior author on the two new studies.

While the findings are not yet ready for clinical use, they are another step toward creating a genetic test to identify women with higher-than-average risk for ovarian cancer.

"It's very early in the game still, but I think it's inevitable" that such a test will be developed, Sellers said.

What if women knew from genetic testing they stood a strong chance of developing ovarian cancer? Sellers said they could not only make sure their doctors monitor them for the earliest signs of disease, they also could take steps to help prevent it.

"Ovarian cancer is one of the malignancies for which we can greatly lower risk," he said.

Using oral contraception reduces ovarian cancer risk, for instance, Sellers said. Women in the highest-risk categories may also consider having their fallopian tubes tied or even their ovaries removed before disease begins, he said.

The Moffitt studies are part of a massive international investigation into the genetic basis of hormone-related cancers, including those of the ovaries, breast and prostate. That project, known as the Collaborative Oncological Gene-environment Study, nearly doubled the number of genetic signposts known to be linked with these cancers.

The project resulted in a coordinated series of 13 publications in scientific journals late last month. Most of the research was financed by the European Union, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Cancer Research U.K.

Moffitt joined that work due to Seller's ongoing affiliation with the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium.

Each year, about 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The five-year survival rate is over 90 percent if the disease is caught in the early stages, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. But due to ovarian cancer's vague symptoms and the lack of early detection tests, less than 20 percent of all cases are found at this early stage.

Knowing one's genetic history doesn't necessarily make medical decisions easy. Consider women who test positive for changes in the BRCA gene mutations. They face any number of difficult choices — from intensive monitoring to preventive mastectomies or removal of healthy ovaries. Not even doctors agree on the best approach.

But one breast cancer study that was part of the international project suggests researchers may one day be better able to better guide women with the BRCA mutation by separating those at the highest cancer risk (more than 80 percent) from those with lower risks.

The more specific information patients can get, the better decisions they can make, Sellers said.

"We're getting to the point where one could draw a sample of DNA at birth and sequence it and put it on a credit card and keep it and that's part of your medical record," he said. "And if we were smart enough about how we use genetic information, it really could inform lifetime risks."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (813) 226-3374.

Moffitt ovarian cancer research aids international effort 04/07/13 [Last modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 8:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Observations from a liberal, gay, Latino, feminist Florida House freshman


    State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando,  rocked the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus dinner at Tallahassee's Hotel Duval Satursday night with his unabashedly liberal and passionate take on the myriad issues he said are key to LGBTQ Floridians. Among them: Access to guns, Reproductive rights, home …

    Carlos G. Smith
  2. Delta Sigma Theta honors outgoing national president

    Human Interest

    During her four years as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Paulette Walker said she always focused on the comma between "Sorority" and "Inc."

    Paulette Walker, the former director of undergraduate programs and internship in the College of Education at the University of South Florida, will be honored on Saturday for her leadership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
  3. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SEOUL —Ten U.S. Navy sailors are missing and five have been injured after the USS John S. McCain destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning.

    In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain patrols in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors were missing, and five were injured, the Navy said. [James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP]
  4. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion


    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  5. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.