UK scientists have found a gene in mice that, if faulty, may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Mice lacking the gene were twice as likely to develop ovarian tumours, as well as showing signs of infertility, according to a new study.
If the gene has a similar role in humans, it could lead to new screening tests, say scientists at the London Research Institute, Cancer Research UK.
The research is published in the journal Nature.
The study looked at a gene known as Helq, which is involved in repairing damaged DNA.
Mice lacking the gene were twice as likely to develop ovarian tumours compared with those with a normal copy.
Dr Simon Boulton, senior author from Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute, said: “Our findings show that if there are problems with the Helq gene in mice it increases the chance of them developing ovarian and other tumours.
“This is an exciting finding because this might also be true for women with errors in Helq, and the next step will be to see if this is the case.
“If it plays a similar role in humans, this may open up the possibility that, in the future, women could be screened for errors in the Helq gene that might increase their risk of ovarian cancer.”
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said the study pulled together clues from a series of experiments building a picture of cell faults that could lead to ovarian cancer in women.
“Ovarian cancer can be hard to diagnose early and treat successfully so the more we know about the causes of the disease, the better equipped we will be to detect and treat it.”
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women in the UK.
About 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and about 4,300 die from the disease.
The lifetime risk of a woman developing cancer of the ovary is about 1 in 50, or 2%, but this may be higher in women with a strong family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, or both.