Gene expression profiling helps in ovarian cancer prognosis

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Steven A. Cannistra, M.D., director of Gynecologic Medical Oncology at BIDMC and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says ovarian cancer is often not detectable until its later stages. At that point, he adds, doctors typically use clinical data to assess a patient’s prognosis and determine her course of therapy, a method that Cannistra notes is imperfect.

Knowing that the behavior of cancers is partly dependent upon gene activity 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. Cannistra explains that as microarray analysis advances, genetic knowledge of tumor cells also becomes more accessible.

Using tumor tissue from ovarian cancer patients, Cannistra’s team employed microarray analysis to develop a “genetic snapshot” of ovarian cancer.

“We were ultimately able to identify 115 genes, which we refer to collectively as the Ovarian Cancer Prognostic Profile,” Cannistra says. “Simply knowing the expression pattern of these genes from the original tumor sample provided us with important information about prognosis that could not be gleaned from standard clinical features.”

According to Cannistra, future research will further evaluate this technology through prospective studies of patients with both advanced ovarian cancer, as well as early stage disease.