- Ovarian cancer can start in the Fallopian tubes.
- It then moves to the ovaries where it is clinically diagnosed.
- Mutation in Fallopian tube lesions may help catch ovarian cancer years earlier.
Screening for tumor cells in the Fallopian tubes of women at high-risk for ovarian cancer may help detect the cancer years before it develops further, according to a new study at Penn Medicine.
Ovarian cancer can start in the Fallopian tubes
Ovarian cancer can start in the Fallopian tubes and secondarily move to the ovaries where it is clinically diagnosed. However, it was not clear how and when these cancers developed, or how to best detect them before they progressed to the ovaries.
‘Mutation of TP53 is among the earliest initiating events for the development of High-Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinoma (HGSOC).’
The new study traces the origins of high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC), the most frequent type of ovarian cancer that is often diagnosed at advanced stages, back to Fallopian tube lesions known as 'p53 signatures' and serous tubal intraepithelial carcinomas (STICs) that harbor the TP53 gene mutations.
Progression: From serous tubal intraepithelial carcinomas (STICs) to ovarian cancer
On average, the timing of the progression from the STICs to ovarian cancer in the five patients analyzed was 6.5 years, with the cancer spreading to other areas quickly thereafter. The same TP53 gene mutations showed up in both the tube lesions and ovarian tumors of the women, all of whom also carried other high-risk mutations, such as BRCA or PTEN.
The researchers performed next-generation sequencing on 37 samples taken from five patients' STIC lesions, Fallopian tube carcinomas, and ovarian cancers. Samples were also taken from metastases in the appendix, abdomen, and rectum in three patients. In addition, the team further analyzed isolated STIC lesions from four patients, three of whom had BRCA mutations and had their ovaries and tubes removed prophylactically. The fourth had her ovaries and tubes removed and a hysterectomy in the context of a pelvic mass surgery.
The researchers identified sequence changes in the TP53 tumor suppressor gene, a well-known driver gene in HGSOC, in all the patients. Those alterations were identical in all the samples from the same patient, including in the p53 (a tumor protein) signatures, the STIC lesions, and other carcinomas, suggesting that mutation of TP53 was among the earliest initiating events for HGSOC development, the authors said.
To recreate the timeline of the tumors, researchers used a mathematical model that estimates the interval between a "founder" cell of a tumor and the ancestral precursor cell in the lesions, using the mutation rates and cell division times observed in each patient.
In one patient, the time between STICs and ovarian cancer was two years. For the four remaining patients, the time was, on average, 6.5 years. Importantly, in patients with metastatic lesions, the time between the initiation of ovarian cancer and development of metastases was rapid, with an average of two years, the researchers reported.
Reducing ovarian cancer risk in the Fallopian tube
The study further supports the concepts behind the recommendation for BRCA carriers and non-carriers to remove the Fallopian tubes, rather than the ovaries - which may significantly reduce their risk, as it eliminates the underlying cellular precursors of ovarian cancer, and that preservation of the ovaries provides long-term benefits, particularly for younger women.
These insights also open the prospect of new approaches for screening, which is especially important, given the limited therapeutic options currently available for ovarian cancer. For example, recent advances in detecting mutations in liquid biopsies, pap smears, and other bodily fluids and imaging approaches may provide opportunities for early diagnosis and intervention, the authors wrote.
"These results represent an important step forward that helps fills a knowledge gap in the evolution of this cancer," Drapkin said. "More studies with a larger cohort of patients are needed to better understand these lesions and the progression into ovarian cancer, but this latest one suggests that examination of the Fallopian tubes should become common practice in pathology, and not confined to just academic centers."
- S. Intidhar Labidi-Galy, Eniko Papp et al. High Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinomas Originate in The Fallopian Tube, Nature Communicationsdoi:10.1038/s41467-017-00962-1