Ovarian cancer is considered one of the most lethal and difficult to diagnose forms of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, five year survival rates in the US are currently just 45%. In 2015 there were an estimated 1.5 million cases worldwide and the cause of 161,000 deaths – making it the 8th most common cause of death among all types of cancer. Kevin Eng, an associate professor of oncology at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center said that “Ovarian cancer is sometimes called the silent killer. It’s hard to detect, and it’s hard to predict.”

This unpredictability leads to a vast number of new cases being diagnosed late, and treatment for ovarian cancer usually ends up consisting of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and surgery. In the search for advancements in the diagnosis of this “silent killer”, many studies have been carried out into the genetics of the illness and new ways of predicting cases. In light of this, a new study has been carried out to establish a link between the X chromosome which is inherited from a woman’s father and the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The study investigated the effects of the gene MAGEC3 in the X chromosome,  in over 3000 grandmother/granddaughter pairs in families with a history of ovarian cancer. Mutations of this gene are known to have an impact on the likelihood of the growth of cancer causing cells. The researchers found that women whose paternal grandmothers had ovarian cancer were twice as likely to develop the disease compared to those whose maternal grandmothers were sufferers – with the percentages of those affected being 28.4% vs 13.9% retrospectively.

The authors of the study had previously put forward the theory that as women have two X chromosomes, the mutated cancer causing gene would be shared twice as often – and the results of the study strongly support this theory. The new evidence to support the new importance of the fathers genes in diagnosing cases of ovarian cancer could change the way the disease is diagnosed in the future – and hopefully lead to massive advancements in its treatment.

According to Dr. Krishnansu Tewari, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and interim director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the research. “If the problem is on the X (chromosome) and the sisters are all affected but the mom isn’t, that means it’s coming from the dad, and originally it came from an affected grandmother on the paternal side.”

He added that this advancement could lead to doctors being able to diagnose new cases much earlier. He said: “Ovarian cancer doesn’t have any specific early symptoms. It’s the most lethal gynecologic cancer because there’s a paucity of early symptoms and absence of a validated screening test. That said, the 10-year disease-free survival is still under 10%. That is why it is so important for patients to voluntarily enroll into clinical trials that are testing new, promising drugs.”

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