A large analysis of cervical tumour samples has found distinct genetic ‘signatures’ that could better define the disease.
The study, by The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Research Network and published in the journal Nature, looked at samples from 178 cervical cancers and found gene faults that are known to help tumours grow.
Experts say this may one day help select targeted treatments based on the genetic faults inside tumours.
Professor Jack Cuzick, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist who works on cervical cancer, said that the research “may be helpful in working out the best treatment for patients with cervical cancer.”
Each year in the UK, around 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and around 900 women die from the disease.
Most cervical cancers are linked to infection with high risk forms of human papillomavirus (HPV).
These HPV infections can cause genetic changes inside cells, which may cause them to become cancerous.
Understanding the changes in cervical cancer is important in developing and using treatments.
The researchers found that more than 7 in 10 cervical cancer samples carried faults in one or both of two important sets of genes that control how and when cells grow and divide.
“Most women who will develop cervical cancer in the next couple of decades are already beyond the recommended age for vaccination and will not be protected by the [HPV] vaccine,” said Dr Douglas Lowy, acting director of the US-based National Cancer Institute, whose scientists were involved in the study.
“Therefore, cervical cancer is still a disease in need of effective therapies, and this latest TCGA analysis could help advance efforts to find drugs that target important elements of cervical cancer genomes in addition to the HPV genes.”
Based on their genetic analysis the team found changes to specific genes which have already been targeted by drugs developed for other cancers. This suggests those drugs might also have potential as treatments for cervical cancer.
Professor Nick Coleman, a Cancer Research UK expert in cervical cancer at the University of Cambridge, said new treatments are needed for cervical cancer and “this detailed study suggests new ways of developing specific targeted therapies.”
“It will now be important to test how suitable the most promising new drugs are for clinical trials,” he added. “We also need to understand more about the early stages of cervical cancer and how we can prevent it from progressing to advanced disease.”
The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network. (2017). Integrated genomic and molecular characterization of cervical cancer. Nature. DOI:10.1038/nature21386