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Genetic Testing Urged to Identify Potential
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Women with personal or family histories
of ovarian cancer in first- or second-degree
relatives are encouraged to seek genetic
counseling and testing, says Erin O’Leary, a
certified genetic counselor with UCLA’s Jonsson
Comprehensive Cancer Center. Also, women
with strong family histories of breast cancer,
especially breast cancer at young ages, or in male
relatives, may benefit from testing. For women
who have already been diagnosed, the testing
can pinpoint the potential genetic cause so that
family members can be tested for the same
mutation to determine their risk for developing
cancer and to make informed, proactive and
preventative medical-management decisions.
For healthy women who are seeking counseling
and testing because of a family history, a number
of genetic factors known to predispose women
to ovarian cancer are considered. The most
1 out of
will develop ovarian cancer
in her lifetime.
UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631)
common are BRCA1 (the mutation for which
Jolie tested positive) and BRCA2, which can
increase a woman’s lifetime risk for breast
cancer to approximately 60 to 85 percent and
for ovarian cancer to 15 to 40 percent. But
O’Leary notes that ovarian-cancer risk is also
tied to hereditary colon cancer and other genetic
syndromes, and roughly 10 percent of patients
who test negative for the BRCA mutation but
have a strong family history will have a mutation
in another gene associated with the disease.
Because as many as half of early stage, treatable
ovarian cancers are not detected even by
the most vigilant screening efforts, experts
recommend that when testing indicates a
woman is at a markedly high risk for ovarian
cancer, she take preventative measures —
removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes
after completing childbearing, ideally by the
age of 40.
Every 24 minutes
marks another diagnosis
of ovarian cancer in
the United States.
For the last several decades, the prognosis for
ovarian cancer has remained largely unchanged.
Efforts to detect the disease while it is still at an
early, treatable stage continue to prove elusive,
and little progress has been made in developing
effective therapies. Now leading researchers in
the field, including a group at UCLA, suspect
they know why: they’ve been looking in the
“We’re learning that the most common and
aggressive type of ovarian cancers, called
serous tumors, originate not in the ovary but
in the neighboring organ, the fallopian tube,”
says Sanaz Memarzadeh, MD, PhD, a UCLA
gynecologic oncologist and researcher.
Much of the investigative effort is now focused
on understanding the cells within which the
tumors originate, which can lead to better
biomarkers for early detection of disease.
Dr. Memarzadeh and her colleagues recently
identified a population of stem-like cells in a
human fallopian tube. Guided by the profile
of these cells, they are starting to isolate the
most aggressive and regenerative cancer cells in
human serous tumors, with the goal of targeting
them for therapy.