CDC admits to “surprising gaps” in Understanding of Ovarian Cancer
Despite advances in cancer research, there remain “surprising gaps” in the fundamental understanding of ovarian cancer, according to a report recently published online by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
One of the key findings of the report is that ovarian cancer should not be categorized as a single disease; rather, it should be considered a constellation of different cancers that involve the ovary.
There are several distinct subtypes with different origins, risk factors, genetic mutations, biologic behaviors, and prognoses.
Recent evidence suggests many ovarian cancers arise outside the ovary, such as in the fallopian tubes, and eventually metastasize to the ovary, according to the report. The cancers can also arise from cells that are not considered intrinsic to the ovary.
“We are tying to understand the root causes of ovarian cancer — why some women get it and why some don’t, and why some women live for decades and others don’t,” said Beth Karlan, MD, director of the women’s cancer program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who is a member of the Committee on the State of the Science of Ovarian Cancer Research, which is responsible for the report.
The committee was created by the Institute of Medicine, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We now have technologies that we can embrace to help us understand the root causes from a molecular level and immunologic level,” Dr Karlan said during a press briefing held to highlight key findings of the report. We also need to understand individual behavior, in terms of exercise and diet, so that we can determine where we go from here, she noted.
“We are hoping to harness this knowledge in terms of early detection, risk assessment, prevention, and treatment. It was this type of expertise and interest that brought this committee together,” she explained.
One of the Deadliest Cancers according to AMA stats
Although ovarian cancer is relatively uncommon, it is one of the deadliest cancers. Each year, more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States, and more than 14,000 women die from the disease.
Late diagnosis is a major concern, said Jerome F. Strauss III, MD, executive vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond, who is chair of the committee.
“The diagnosis is often made when the disease is disseminated, and about 60% of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are diagnosed at advanced stages,” said Dr Strauss, who chaired the panel at the press briefing. “It is associated with a 5-year survival of less than a 30%.”
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