Prostate and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is both Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In the U.S., prostate cancer is the most common cancer (after skin cancer) in men: about 1 in 7 will be diagnosed during his lifetime. However, as the American Cancer Society points out, prostate cancer is now quite treatable, and “most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it.” But there is still progress to be made: for example, current treatments can have undesirable side effects, such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.

The situation with ovarian cancer is rather reversed. It is far less common – a woman’s risk of being diagnosed is about 1 in 75 – but has much lower survival rates, largely because it is difficult to detect until it has spread. The American Cancer Society reports that only 15% of ovarian cancers are found and treated at the crucial early stages. Development of a reliable way to diagnose ovarian cancer is vital, as is a greater understanding of its tendency to aggressively metastasize and resist treatment.  

Fortunately, multiple research groups at the Weizmann Institute of Science are investigating prostate and ovarian cancers. Here are just some of their advances:

  • Profs. Avigdor Scherz and Yoram Salomon devised a method of destroying prostate tumors by cutting off their blood supply. Their technique appears to have minimal, if any, side effects and is currently in clinical trials for treating prostate cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering, with very positive results.

  • A team in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology studies the role of cell suicide in both normal and cancerous ovarian cells. Cell suicide, or “apoptosis,” is normal – unless it goes awry, which can lead to disease. The scientists identified certain hormones and a gene that protect ovarian cells from apoptosis, and are working to turn their discoveries into new treatments for ovarian cancer.

  • Prof. Hadassa Degani developed a means of early cancer detection and diagnosis called three time point (3TP). Because it utilizes MRI, 3TP reduces the need for invasive, painful biopsies. It received FDA approval in 2003 for the detection of prostate and breast cancer, and is today used worldwide.

  • Investigating the tendency of ovarian tumors to metastasize and resist chemotherapy, Prof. Michal Neeman used advanced imaging to confirm the link between ovarian tumor growth and the growth of blood vessels. She is working on a hormonal intervention that could lead to ovarian cancer remission.

  • Prof. Eytan Domany and a team that includes clinicians are working to identify combinations of genes to estimate whether prostate cancer will metastasize, potentially leading to new therapies. They are also focusing on genetic signatures that may indicate how prostate cancer will respond to radiation, which could help oncologists tailor the treatment.

  • Researchers in the Department of Biological Regulation discovered that two hormones responsible for new blood vessels in ovarian cancer actually prompt malignant ovarian cells to stick to the lining of the abdominal cavity. This may explain why ovarian cancer tends to metastasize in the abdomen and could lead to new interventions.

These Weizmann Institute scientists believe in the power of research to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer in new and more powerful ways. In turn, donors show their belief in the scientists by supporting their critical research. Be a partner in our common war against prostate and ovarian cancer – this month and every month.