The identification of a gene expression profile using microarray technology may help clinicians better determine the prognosis of patients with advanced stage ovarian cancer and may eventually help provide targeted therapies for this hard-to-treat disease, according to a study led by investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).
The findings, described in an advance on-line publication of the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, represent the first time that this type of genetic test has proven useful as a prognostic tool for ovarian cancer, which accounts for approximately 26,000 new cases and 16,000 deaths in the United States each year. "Ovarian cancer is widely recognized as being extremely difficult to treat," explains Stephen A. Cannistra, M.D., Director of Gynecologic Medical Oncology at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Because symptoms often do not appear until the disease has already spread to the upper abdomen, this malignancy is usually not diagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage." At that point, he adds, doctors typically use clinical data – such as the amount of residual disease remaining following surgery – to assess a patients prognosis and determine their course of therapy, a method that Cannistra notes is admittedly imperfect.
Knowing that the behavior of cancers is partly dependent upon which genes are turned on and off in tumor cells, researchers have long suspected that a better understanding of the genetic profile of the tumors of individual patients could help in making a more accurate prognosis. "With the advent of microarray analysis -- in which genes expressed by the cancer cells are labeled with a probe and then applied to a glass slide that contains embedded sequences of thousands of known human genes – this type of genetic information has become much more accessible," explains Cannistra. "[Through this process] genes that are present in the tumor cell bind to their counterpart sequences on the glass slide, thereby permitting their identification with the aid of computer analysis."
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