Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Researcher to Study Familial Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BUFFALO, NY: Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (Roswell Park) has been awarded a grant of $200,000 by the Ralph Wilson Medical Research Foundation to study a specific set of genetic mutations that increase a woman’s risk of developing familial ovarian cancer. Hua Zhao, PhD, of the Epidemiology department at Roswell Park, is the principal investigator.

“The most common form of familial ovarian cancer can be attributed to these and other genetic mutations, and family history is the strongest risk factor for ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Zhao. “Women with one first-degree relative with ovarian cancer have a 5% risk of developing ovarian cancer, compared to a 1.6% lifetime risk in the general population. Women with two first-degree relatives have a 7% risk. Parents, siblings, and offspring are all considered first-degree relatives.”

Dr. Zhao will use samples and data from the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry at Roswell Park to investigate the roles of certain genetic imbalances (allelic imbalance of BRCA 1/2) in familial ovarian cancer and to identify the genetic factors that contribute to these imbalances.

“We hope the study will identify a novel genetic mechanism that contributes to an increased risk of familial ovarian cancer, explained Dr. Zhao. “To our knowledge this is the first study to investigate this particular imbalance in relation to ovarian cancer. The study should identify a potential way to categorize women at high risk for ovarian cancer, and the long-term application of this information to risk assessment, prevention, and early detection of ovarian cancer, and potentially to reduced mortality in ovarian cancer patients will be significant.”

This is the second year of Dr. Zhao’s research, and already, significant progress has been made: 110 ovarian cancer cases and 110 unaffected relatives have been analyzed. The level of genetic imbalance is significantly higher in the women with ovarian cancer than in their unaffected sisters. Additionally, higher levels of these imbalances in the sisters are associated with a greater risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the future.

Ovarian cancer is one of the most common gynecologic malignancies in women, and approximately 70% of the women who are diagnosed are in an advanced stage. The five-year survival rate of women with ovarian cancer is about 40% and has not increased significantly over the past 20 years despite advances in treatment.

The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Roswell Park, founded in 1898, was one of the first cancer centers in the country to b named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit Roswell Park’s website at, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email

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Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager