Ovarian Cancer Breakthrough

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A team of Newcastle researchers, led by UON’s Dr Pradeep Tanwar, has identified a game-changing link between the use of the contraceptive pill and the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The study, published in Oncotarget August 20, 2016, explores the role that oestrogen and progesterone play in the growth and suppression of ovarian cancer cells.

Ovarian Cancer is a deadly gynaecological disease, primarily because most patients are asymptomatic and diagnosis occurs late – when cancer cells have spread to other organs. As the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in women, the ovarian cancer five-year survival rate has sat at around 40 per cent for the last 20 years.

Researchers have highlighted the need to understand the signalling pathways involved in the pathogenesis of this disease. This will allow them to identify therapeutic targets and means of treating the disease.

Various lifestyle and genetic factors have been associated with the predisposition to developing ovarian cancer – with studies of large cohorts of women showing that breastfeeding, pregnancy and combined oral contraceptive use significantly decreases the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Conversely, infertility and nulliparity (a woman who has never carried a pregnancy or been pregnant), increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The study suggests that the high levels of progesterone in combined oral contraceptive formulations reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Through the use of mouse modelling, the team have discovered that progesterone suppresses the growth of ovarian cancer initiating lesions by targeting proteins belonging to the Wnt signalling pathway and thereby provides protection against developing ovarian cancer.

The practical research backed up a large body of international empirical research including a large study of 31, 658 Catholic Nuns that showed that these women are more likely to die from reproductive cancers compared to the general population. Another study of 17,032 women revealed that oral contraceptive use significantly lowered the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The findings published in this journal raise the exciting possibility that ovarian cancer is a disease caused by rogue cells. The next step in this study is to investigate the role of the fallopian tube stem/progenitor cells in the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer and determine how changes in ovarian hormones regulate their growth in normal and carcinogenic conditions.

It’s an exciting field of study that could be a game-changer in reducing women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Read the full study here.

Read this ABC article on Pradeep Tanwar’s work here.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.