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How Ovarian Cancer Hides From The Body's Immune System: The Secret Hideouts Uncovered

How Ovarian Cancer Hides From The Body's Immune System: The Secret Hideouts Uncovered
Scientists Uncover The Secret Hideouts Of Ovarian Cancer

Understanding how ovarian cancer cells hide from the body's immune system will help in developing more effective immunotherapies, say researchers.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : February 12, 2022 6:01 PM IST

Globally, ovarian cancer is considered the seventh most commonly occurring cancer among women, and the eighth most common cause of cancer death in women. This cancer is difficult to treat and usually fatal. Ovarian cancer often shows no symptoms at the early stages, and hence the disease is generally diagnosed at an advanced stage. In a breakthrough research, scientists at the University of Helsinki have discovered the mechanisms that ovarian cancer cells use to hide from the body's immune system, which had remained unknown until now.

The researchers explained that cancer can only develop and progress when the tumour cells are able to hide from the body's immune system. Cancer immunotherapies boost the body's immune defence against cancer. While this type of treatment has shown promising results in multiple tumour types, its effectiveness against ovarian cancer has remained modest mainly because the secret hideouts of ovarian cancer cells have been unknown.

Tumour cells hide in different ways

Finally, scientists have been able find out how tumour cells interact with the immune system in ovarian cancer, with the help of a novel imaging technology and advanced data analysis.

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In the study, researchers at the University of Helsinki characterized over 110,000 individual cells from clinical ovarian cancer samples. They found that tumour cells hide in different ways, depending on the specific gene mutation.

According to them, the body's immune system is more effective against tumours with a mutation in BRCA1/2 genes, and tumours without such mutations have a connective tissue barrier that prohibits the interaction between the cancer and immune cells.

In tumours with BRCA1/2 mutations, the killer T-cells closely guarded the aggressive cancer cells. This is the reason why these patients had a markedly better prognosis. Such mutations occur in approximately 20 per cent of poorly differentiated serous carcinomas, the most common form of ovarian cancer, the researchers pointed out.

Understanding how tumour genes trick the immune system will help in developing more effective immunotherapies, said doctoral researcher Inga-Maria Launonen.

Associate professor Anniina F rkkil , the corresponding author of the study, added that their discovery will enable researchers to tailor precision immuno- and combination therapies that might even cure ovarian cancer in the future.

Ovarian Cancer: Signs and symptoms

Ovarian cancer incidence rates are greater in high-income countries, compared to middle- to low-income countries. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with the advancing age, with more than half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are older than 65 years.

In the initial stages, ovarian cancer might not cause any noticeable symptoms. When the disease progresses, one may experience signs and symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Quickly feeling full when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • A frequent need to urinate

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, consult your doctor.

What causes ovarian cancer is not known clearly, several factors have been identified that can increase your risk of the disease. These include - older age, family history of ovarian cancer, being overweight or obese, postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy, endometriosis, and never having been pregnant.

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