Women who carry a faulty copy of a gene called RAD51D have an almost one-in-11 chance of developing ovarian cancer, scientists said yesterday in a finding they called the most significant ovarian cancer gene discovery for more than 10 years.
Tests to identify those at the highest risk are expected to be available within a few years, according to Cancer Research U.K. This may lead some women to decide to have their ovaries removed in order to beat the disease.
The finding should also speed the search for new drugs.
Laboratory experiments already suggest that cells with faulty RAD51D are sensitive to PARP inhibitors — a new class of drugs designed to target cancers caused by faults in two known breast and ovarian cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Several large drugmakers, including Abbott, Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis and AstraZeneca, are developing PARP inhibitors, which work by blocking DNA repair mechanisms in cancer cells, stalling the cell cycle and leading to cell death.
Data released in May showed that one of these, AstraZeneca’s olaparib, was able to slow the progression of ovarian cancer in a midstage clinical trial.
For the latest study, researchers from Britain’s Institute of Cancer Research compared the DNA of women from 911 families with ovarian and breast cancer to DNA from a control group of more than 10,000 people from the general population.