Breakthrough may improve chances of survival for silent killer

Ovarian cancer, with its low survival rate, is a difficult ­subject, so new research ­explaining why some women with the most lethal form of the cancer respond better to treatment than ­others is welcome.

Researchers at Imperial College London found the tumours of some women with this HGSOC (high-grade serious ovarian cancer) contain a type of tissue, TLS, which gives them a better prognosis.

They also identified genes in HGSOC that are important for TLS formation and function.

The team analysed tumours from 242 patients with HGSOC to discover the TLS. This is one of the first times scientists have found TLS in women with HGSOC and concluded it improves their chances of survival.

Lead researcher Dr Haonan Lu, from the university’s department of surgery and cancer, said: “People tend to think of all cancer cell activity as purely malignant – but the reality is less clear cut.

“Tumours can hijack a number of normal body processes and here, they seem to be hijacking the formation of normal human lymph tissue within themselves. Some of these lymphoid structures are able to then mature and activate T cells, which could attack the cancer itself.”

Approximately 7,500 women are diagnosed with HGSOC each year, and because it’s often discovered late, many patients relapse, leading to a five-year survival rate of below 40%.

The team was able to pinpoint the relevant genetic mutations involved in the cancer’s TLS formation.

Dr Lu said: “There is great potential for targeting these genes for benefits in ovarian cancer treatment.”

The researchers have also developed a method of identifying patients with high levels of TLS from standard CT scans, using artificial intelligence. This could ensure that those women who would benefit from different treatments are found more quickly.

Although CT scans form part of managing the condition, TLS tissues aren’t visible to the human eye from a normal CT scan.

But the team’s AI algorithm was trained to detect TLS tissues in the tumours and has successfully ­identified them on scans of patients known to have TLS tissues at Hammersmith Hospital, West London.

Professor Eric Aboagye, professor of cancer pharmacology & molecular imaging at Imperial College London, said: “This non-invasive identification test means that oncologists will be able to determine if a patient has high or low TLS in future and treat them accordingly.”

So women with aggressive tumours can be spotted quickly and treated.