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From Australia and the Herald Sun
April 19, 2009 12:00am
RESEARCHERS at Melbourne's Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre have discovered a genetic key that could lead to world-first cure for ovarian cancer.
A major Victorian study is investigating whether gene mutations are responsible for the cancer, which claims the lives of 800 Australian women each year.
Lead researcher Prof David Bowtell said the study might hold the key to prevention and increased cures. Prof Bowtell, Dr Gillian Mitchell and Prof Stephen Fox, of Peter Mac, have won funding to look at how many women with ovarian cancer carry mutations in either of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
It has been known for more than a decade that women who carry either mutation have a greatly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Prof Bowtell's Australian ovarian cancer study examines the other side of the coin -- how many women with ovarian cancer carry the mutation.
Prof Bowtell said Canadian researchers had found 18 per cent of women with the most common type of invasive ovarian cancer had mutations of the BRCA genes.
His study aims to test the Canadian results and, if confirmed, he believes this will change the way ovarian cancer is managed "given the stronger involvement of BRCA mutations in the development of ovarian cancer in the general population than previously believed".
"We know that we can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, in women carrying the mutation, by about 95 per cent," Prof Bowtell said.
"Hence, it is important to identify all those that may be carriers -- the sisters and daughters of women with the disease."
Women with these gene mutations have a 40 per cent risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Why that happens is not yet fully understood.
About 1100 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year and 800 women die every year.
At present, in Victoria, fewer than half the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer survive five years.
This is because there is no early detection test and by the time most women are diagnosed, the cancer is well advanced.