Life-Saving Developments in Ovarian Cancer Research

September – ovarian cancer month – was marked with the usual high-profile events to raise funds and awareness. September 2010, however, will be remembered as particularly significant for this most deadly of women’s cancers.

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Saving Lives

Our provincial cancer control organization, the BC Cancer Agency, marked two major milestones in ovarian cancer prevention and research. Both were announced by the Ovarian Cancer Research Program of B.C. – OvCaRe for short- a highly collaborative team of cancer scientists and specialists with the Agency and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

Their first announcement could reduce ovarian cancer deaths by 50 per cent over the next 20 years. To prevent ovarian cancer, the OvCaRe team is urging all B.C. gynecologists to remove women’s fallopian tubes during routine hysterectomies and tubal ligations.

This recommendation stems from the team’s previous research, which showed that ovarian cancer is not one, but several distinct diseases, and that the most common and deadly form actually starts in the fallopian tubes, not in the ovaries.

As OvCaRe surgical oncologist Dr. Dianne Miller explained, “We can have an immediate impact on saving lives because these women will not develop ovarian cancer.”

Her colleague Dr. David Huntsman led the Agency research team that made the second announcement, which is another giant step forward in our understanding of ovarian cancer. It concerned the second most common, the deadliest and the hardest to treat ovarian cancer – clear cell carcinoma.

How They’re Doing It

By sequencing the DNA of patients’ tumours, Dr. Huntsman’s team discovered genetic mutations that disrupt the tumour-suppressing abilities of a certain gene. Their discovery leads the way for the development of new, more effective treatments that will target the mutations. Both of these advances add to the Agency‘s historic achievements in women’s cancers, dating back over 50 years.

The BC Cancer Agency was the first in the world to offer a simple screening test to all women in its jurisdiction, to detect early and curable cervical cancer. The Pap smear has since reduced the incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancers by 70 per cent.
Likewise, the Agency was the first in Canada to launch breast screening for all women in the province. Screening mammograms have since reduced breast cancer death rates by 25 per cent.
Breast cancer research at the Agency is led by internationally- renowned and Cambridge-trained scientist, Dr. Sam Aparicio. Last year, his team decoded the genetic development of a patient’s breast cancer tumour and discovered how her cancer began and spread a discovery that has opened the door to many new treatment targets.

The common thread in all these achievements is the partnership between research and philanthropy. The BC Cancer Foundation and its donors have supported OvCaRe for over 10 years; through The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers, they have funded breakthrough discoveries in all women’s cancers, including last year’s landmark breast cancer study.

About the Foundation

The BC Cancer Foundation, its donors and the Agency‘s world-renowned scientists and doctors are powerful partners in discovery. This partnership comes together to fund and find solutions that are making a difference in the lives of all cancer patients in B.C.
You can learn more about these research discoveries by visiting the BC Cancer Foundation’s website.

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