News / Vancouver

B.C. study could change the way cancer of uterus and ovary treated

Scientists say the finding reaffirms that doctors in this province are taking the right approach in treating the disease.

BC Cancer Agency research associate Michael Anglesio, right, and distinguished scientist Dr. David Huntsman have made a breakthrough in understanding the origins of cancer that occurs simultaneously in the uterus and ovary.

Thandi Fletcher/Metro

BC Cancer Agency research associate Michael Anglesio, right, and distinguished scientist Dr. David Huntsman have made a breakthrough in understanding the origins of cancer that occurs simultaneously in the uterus and ovary.

B.C. scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding the origins of cancer that occurs simultaneously in the uterus and ovary— a finding they say reaffirms that doctors in this province are taking the right approach in treating the disease.

Dr. David Huntsman, principal investigator for the study and a distinguished scientist at the BC Cancer Agency, said the findings have important implications for ensuring women diagnosed with this type of cancer are given the appropriate treatment.

“We hope our findings will change the way these cancers are staged or how the degree of spread is scored clinically to prevent patients being treated over aggressively,” he told Metro. “Every treatment or operation given, there is a price to pay in terms of cost to the system, but most importantly, side effects to the patient. It’s really important that the right treatments are given to the right patients.”

Synchronous endometrial and ovarian, or SEO, cancer, occurs when tumours appear on the ovary and on the endometrial lining of the uterus at the same time.

While the spread of a tumour from one organ to another, known as metastasis, is often an indication of advanced stage cancer that requires aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatment, SEO cancer has puzzled scientists because they often respond well to surgery alone.

After sequencing frequently mutated cancer genes in 18 pairs of SEO tumours, the researchers discovered that each pair of tumours had identical features, confirming that the cancer does spread from one organ to another, but through a novel process they call “pseudo-metastasis.”

While usual metastasis involves cancer spreading through the blood stream and changing along the way, allowing it to survive in a new environment, Huntsman said SEO tumours appear to spread through the fallopian tubes from the uterus to the ovary, and vice versa, without undergoing any changes.

“It’s a bit like going from one place you’re familiar with to another, like your house to your cabin, as opposed to going to a totally foreign place,” he said. “What it shows is that some metastasis may be curable by surgery because the tumours haven’t had to change in ways that would allow it to grow in other parts of the body.”

Michael Anglesio, lead author and research associate in the department of molecular biology at the BC Cancer Agency, said the findings open the door to future research on pseudo-metastasis.

“It really does come down to the biology of how something can metastasize and then still remain restricted,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of future work on trying to figure out what the feedback is between the normal cells that surround and the cancer itself.”

The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.  

Metro Savers