Gene mutation increases risk of ovarian cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Portuguese researchers have discovered that a particular genetic mutation can double or even treble a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Reporting their findings at the European Cancer Conference in Barcelona, experts from the Portuguese Institute of Oncology revealed the results of a study into a gene variant known as the '765GC COX2 polymorphism', a mutation in the COX2 inflammation gene that has previously been linked with cancers of the stomach, food pipe and prostate.

The researchers studied DNA from the blood of 727 women - 150 with ovarian cancer, 351 with cervical cancer or pre-cancerous cells in their cervix, and 226 who were cancer-free.

While the mutation played no role in the onset of cervical cancer, particular versions of it doubled the risk of ovarian cancer. The risk was trebled in women aged 53 or younger.

Dr Ana Carina Pereira, a junior scientist in the institute's molecular oncology group, explained: "Although the causes of ovarian cancer are not fully understood yet, inflammation is known to play an important role in the onset of both ovarian and invasive cervical cancer.

"COX2 has an important role in the inflammatory process, as well as in key steps in tumour development."

She also said that the mutation may enhance the expression of the gene, preventing natural cell death and promoting the formation of tumours and the additional blood vessels required to fuel tumour growth.

Dr Pereira continued: "The interesting clue from these results is the importance of this COX2 enzyme and the therapeutic drugs that may inhibit its activity - such as aspirin and other NSAIDs [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs].

"Now we need studies that will confirm whether giving NSAIDs to women with this polymorphism might be of value in both preventing and treating ovarian cancer."

The researcher also noted that further research is needed to confirm the results but that, if corroborated, the findings could "open new windows for the development of preventive strategies and for the individualisation of therapies for patients".