Study Suggests Connection Between Ovarian Cancer and Fibrosis, Provides Possible Risk Management Option

By Hillary Eames
Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A recent study in Ottawa poses a connection between ovarian fibrosis and the risk of developing ovarian cancer, and hints at a drug that may decrease that risk.

A laboratory study, conducted at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa and published in Clinical Cancer Research, explored the correlation among ovarian fibrosis, ovarian cancer and a drug prescribed for Type 2 diabetes which may assist in preventing both conditions.

“There has been a long-standing question as to why the ovary is a [suitable] place for cancer to grow or spread to, and we know that tissues that are fibrotic usually are, ” says Curtis McCloskey, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. “The overall process found that the wound and repair process [of ovulation] causes the tissue to replenish itself often. Within that remodeling process, fibrosis may appear with ovulation number and with age ... [which may] create an environment that facilitates the growth of cancer.”

The study’s findings are the first to suggest that fibrosis occurs with ovulation and age, which McCloskey identifies as “the primary non-hereditary risk factors” for ovarian cancer.

“It’s a new perspective on these risk factors,” he says. “The study offers a new hypothesis on how ovulation and age might leave women at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.”

Metformin Use Linked with Lack of Fibrosis

During his research, however, McCloskey found that one woman, age 69, had no fibrosis within her ovary. According to her patient medical records, the woman had been prescribed the drug metformin for Type 2 diabetes. To further explore the connection between metformin and ovarian fibrosis, McCloskey and his team examined 27 ovaries removed from women ranging in age from 21 to 82. Most women who were postmenopausal had fibrotic ovaries, but five of these ovaries belonged to post-menopausal women who had taken metformin. Among these five samples, none had evidence of fibrosis. When considered in context, these findings suggest metformin may help prevent ovarian fibrosis, which may help women reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Cancer Prevention Research Continues

McCloskey is careful to note that his findings are correlative, and more research is necessary.

“I think the next big step is [understanding] how metformin might be in play,” he says. “[Our study] was a static picture, so we don’t know if metformin was preventing fibrosis from happening or reversing it after it was already there.”

Though research is still in its early stages, McCloskey is optimistic that this line of investigation may offer the possibility of prevention for women who are at risk of ovarian cancer.