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Test IDs Bad Uterine, Ovarian Cancers

L1 Molecule in Blood Means Poor Outlook -- Even for "Good" Tumors
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 11, 2003 -- Even low-risk uterine tumors can kill. Now it may be possible to predict which uterine and ovarian cancers are killers.

The possible breakthrough comes from Peter Altevogt, PhD, of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, and colleagues. In the Sept. 13 issue of The Lancet, they report that killer uterine and ovarian cancers give off a molecule called L1.

Patients whose uterine and ovarian tumor biopsy samples contained L1 did much worse than those with no L1. And preliminary studies suggest that L1 can be detected in the blood long before a patient has any cancer symptoms.

"Collectively, our results suggest that ... L1 constitutes a new biomarker for ovarian and uterine [cancers] associated with poor clinical outcome," Altevogt says in a news release. "L1-based diagnosis and prognosis could make an important contribution towards better management and treatment of this disease."

Bad Sign in "Good" Tumors

Usually, it's a relief for a woman to hear that her uterine tumor is the endometrioid type. This kind of tumor carries a low risk of malignancy and usually means a good outcome.

Usually, but not always. Some women die from these tumors. And those that do, Altevogt's study suggest, have tumors that give off L1.

On the other hand, the serous papillary type of ovarian tumor is usually bad news. But some women do well. The study suggests that these survivors have tumors that don't have L1.

The researchers detected L1 in 46 of 58 ovarian cancers and in 20 of 72 uterine cancers. The finding nearly always meant bad news.

No L1 in Other Cancers

Ovarian and uterine cancers are deadly because they can spread very fast. L1 appears to play a critical role in this spread. Indeed, when the researchers looked at the tumors, they found L1 only on their spreading edges.

However, they did not find L1 in colon cancers, melanomas, breast cancers, or prostate cancers.

Altevogt warns that L1 testing needs more study before it's ready for doctors' offices.

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