Women with ovarian cancer, more than with other gynecological tumors, often are not diagnosed until the cancer is advanced and harder to treat. Symptoms can be minimal or mistaken for other issues.
Traditional forms of treatment like surgical removal of the tumor or ovaries and chemotherapy -- which can work well if the cancer is found early -- may not eradicate the cancerous cells by the time that they've spread outside the ovaries.
One specific type of the disease, known as high-grade serous ovarian cancer, is the deadliest type of any reproductive system cancer and is responsible for about 70 percent of ovarian cancer cases in the U.S. Its symptoms, which include abdominal pain and swelling, gastrointestinal symptoms and pelvic pain, are often mistaken for menstrual symptoms or overlooked until the cancer has metastasized.
Fixing a Protein Mutation Reduces Cancer Cells
Humans have a specific type of protein called p53, which has the role of detecting and stopping growth of damaged cells. If the cell cannot be repaired, this protein helps to initiate cell death so that cancerous cells are not reproduced.
A common mutation in the p53 protein causes it to clump together and stop functioning as a detector of malignant cells. When the mutation affects a significant number of the protein molecules in the cell, then they fail to do their jobs, and the cells they are in become cancerous. These mutations are present in 96 percent of high-grade serous ovarian cancer cases.
Researchers at UCLA recently created a peptide, or chain of amino acids, that they named ReACp53. This peptide helps to keep the p53 proteins from clumping together, so their normal function can be restored and they can destroy cancerous cells.
Treating Ovarian Cancer with Peptide ReACp53
Currently, research has been done on human cancer cells and not on actual cancer patients. Scientists have used malignant cells from human patients to grow tumors in the lab, then applied the ReACp53 peptide. The tumors all shrank significantly.
The peptide, which is made of strings of amino acids somewhat like a simple protein, is also well-tolerated by the body and is unlikely to have major side effects. Scientists hope to begin human testing by the end of the year.
Of course, the best treatment for ovarian cancer is to catch it early and treat it quickly. Talk to your gynecologist if you experience any continual (lasting for more than a few days) symptoms that include abdominal or pelvic pain, bloating or cramping.