Ovarian cancer thrives on belly fat, study shows

By Jennifer Standish

A University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) study has found a link between excess abdominal fat and the spread of ovarian cancer.

The study was prompted when researchers noticed that cancer cells in patients with ovarian cancer tended to metastasize into the fat pad, or omentum, as well.

Over 20,000 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, over whom nearly 15,000 died, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is most common in women over 60, and 90 percent of diagnoses are in women over 40.

The UCMC study consisted of injecting ovarian cancer cells into the abdomen of healthy mice, according to the BBC article “‘Fatty Apron’ fuels ovary cancer.” Researchers noted that the cancer cells reached the omentum within 20 minutes.

The study is still ongoing and researchers are now targeting the fatty acid binding protein called FABP4 “as a potential therapeutic target,” said Kristen Nieman, one of the study’s authors. When researchers inhibited signals emitted by the FABP4 during the study, the attraction of cancer cells to the omentum fell by as much as 50 percent.

The UCMC is now incorporating the research of more University of Chicago graduate students—such as Carla Penicka (A.B. ’10) and Marion Zilhardt, a Ph.D. student on the Committee on Cancer Biology, who were both graduate students at the time of the study and contributed research.

However, the results may not be specific only to those with ovarian cancer. Nieman remarked that the findings “could potentially be applied to other forms of cancer such as breast cancer.”