According to a recent article published in the International Journal of Cancer, high levels of circulating insulin-like growth factor appear to be a strong indicator of an increased risk of the development of ovarian cancer in women under 55 years.
Ovarian cancer is a common malignancy, with about 25,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. The ovary makes female hormones and stores all of the eggs that are released once a month during ovulation. There are two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The earlier ovarian cancer is detected, the higher the cure rate. Unfortunately, because ovarian cancer begins deep in the pelvis and often does not cause any specific symptoms until advanced stages, the disease often goes unnoticed until it has spread and is considered incurable. Ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer”. Since ovarian cancer has suboptimal long-term outcomes with standard therapies once it has spread, researchers are evaluating approaches to detect ovarian cancer early, or to determine if a woman is at a high risk for developing the disease so she can undergo appropriate screening.
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates specific biochemical processes in the body. IGF-I has been implicated in the development of various cancers and researchers are further evaluating its role as a screening marker. Researchers from the U.S., Italy and Sweden recently conducted a study to determine if an association existed between levels of circulating IGF-I and the development of ovarian cancer. In this study, approximately 70,000 women from the U.S., Italy and Sweden had blood collected beginning in 1985 from which IGF-I levels were determined. Women from the U.S. were part of a mammographic screening clinic, women from Italy were healthy volunteers attending a breast cancer prevention unit and women from Sweden were from the general population. Women involved in this study were followed by phone, mail, cancer registries, or registries for mortality of all causes to keep updated records of the incidence of ovarian cancer. Of these women, 132 cases of invasive ovarian cancer were diagnosed at least one year following the blood draw, with an average of 5.7 years between blood draw and cancer diagnosis.
Researchers found a strong correlation between elevated levels of IGF-I in the collected blood and a significantly increased risk of the development of ovarian cancer in women less than 55 years of age. However, there was no apparent significant correlation between levels of IGF-I and the development of ovarian cancer in women over the age of 55. These researchers speculate that IGF-I may influence the development of ovarian cancer through a variety of biological mechanisms. Regardless, an elevated level of circulating IGF-I appears to be an effective early indicator of a significantly increased risk of women developing ovarian cancer at 55 years or younger. If used as a screening method, patients found to have high IGF-I levels could be closely monitored in order to detect the cancer in its earliest stage, when treatment provides optimal cure rates. Future larger clinical studies addressing the association between IGF-I levels and ovarian cancer in younger women are warranted. Patients at a high-risk of developing ovarian cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating IGF-I levels or other promising screening measures. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and www.eCancerTrials.com. eCancerTrials.com also provides personalized clinical trial searches on behalf of patients.
Reference: Lukanova A, Lundin E, Micheli P, et al. Circulating levels of insulin-like growth factor-I and risk of ovarian cancer.