US and French researchers said they have discovered a genetic marker that is present in at least 11 types of cancerous tumours and could lead to new tests and treatments for the disease.
Researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research said they found the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) receptor in over 1,300 cancer patients.
"This new tumour marker may be used to improve cancer detection. Tumour imaging agents that bind to the new marker could be injected in the vasculature and would make visible early tumours located anywhere in the body," said Aurelian Radu of Mount Sinai, the study's lead author.
The researchers stressed that further tests were required to confirm their findings, and to discover whether the marker is present in tumours linked to other types of cancer.
Discovery very promising
But they said the discovery was "very promising" and could "ultimately provide a new diagnostic or therapeutic target to detect cancer early or stop growth."
The research, published in the October 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluated tissue samples from the tumours of 1,336 people with 11 types of cancer: prostate, breast, colon, pancreas, bladder, kidneys, lungs, liver, stomach, testicles and ovaries.
The study found that FSH, which is ordinarily found only in human reproductive organs, was present in the blood vessel cells of all the tumours evaluated in their study, regardless of the type or stage of the growth.
"By contrast, this receptor was totally absent in the other normal tissues of the organism, including the normal tissue of the organ that was carrying the tumour," the study said.
The researchers then examined the FSH receptors under an electron microscope, confirming that the receptors "accumulate on the blood vessels in the tumour but do not bind to blood vessels in the normal tissues."
Choking cancer growths
The presence of the marker in the vasculature of tumours provides a potentially promising way for researchers to choke the cancerous growths, the study's authors said.
That means the research could help medical professionals develop both a new way to test for cancer, but also a new way to treat it.
"New therapeutic agents can be developed that will block the tumour blood supply, either by inhibiting formation of new blood vessels, blocking the blood flow by coagulation, or by destroying the existing tumour vessels," Radu said.
Nicolae Ghinea, a French researcher on the study, said an expansion of the research could take years, but "one can imagine a universal treatment for a universal marker."
The study's authors said any future treatment could also prove easier for cancer patients to endure than chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
"The future agents are expected to have reduced side effects, because the target (FSH) is absent from almost all normal tissues, and in the blood vessels of the reproductive organs it is present in much lower concentrations than in tumours," they said.
(Sapa, Christine Courcol, October 2010)
Cervical cancer overview