Breakthrough found in treatment-resistant ovarian cancer

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



BC Cancer Agency has new findings on a rare type of ovarian cancer that can affect girls as young as 14 months and doesn’t respond to standard chemotherapy.

Dr. Anthony Karnezis said that through joint research his team has now identified a mutated protein in the cancer that — in a healthy body — functions as a tumour suppressor or “brake pedal,” but no longer works in those with the type of cancer known as small-cell carcinoma.

The trick, he said, is to find out what’s replaced the suppressor and try to find a way to stop it.

“If you take out the star quarterback and you can’t put in a decent second quarterback, the game’s over,” Karnezis said.

“We’re trying to figure out how the cells have compensated for the loss of (this protein) and trying to get rid of whatever took its place, functionally.”

It’s still unclear where the cancer comes from, he said. The theory is that it’s caused by female eggs or their “supporting cells” since the cancer only affects premenopausal women.

This type of ovarian cancer also kills more than half of those it touches within two years. While the five-year survival rate of breast cancer is 70-80%, he said, there are “minimal” odds of surviving small-cell carcinoma for that long.

The cancer is extremely rare, but is known to pass down through family generations. There are also links to mutations in other organs that need to be further explored.

“Imagine telling someone their nine-year-old kid has the cancer, and now their other eight-year-old daughter has just come down with the cancer, and you’re basically telling them there’s nothing we can do,” Karnezis added.

“We’d like to change that.”



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