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CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new understanding of the genetic process that can lead to cervical cancer may help improve diagnosis of potentially dangerous lesions for some women, and also raises a warning flag about the use of anti-viral therapies in certain cases – suggesting they could actually trigger the cancer they are trying to cure.
The analysis provides a clearer picture of the chromosomal and genetic changes that take place as the human papillomavirus sometimes leads to chronic infection and, in less than 1 percent of cases, to cervical cancer. It is the first to identify specific genes that are keys to this process.
Researchers say they want to emphasize, however, that the HPV vaccine commonly used by millions of women around the world is perfectly safe if done prior to infection with the virus. The concerns raised by this study relate only to viral therapies or possible use of a therapeutic vaccine after the virus has already been integrated into human cells.
"It’s been known for decades that only women with prior infection with HPV get cervical cancer," said Andrey Morgun, an assistant professor and a leader of the study in the OSU College of Pharmacy. "In about 90 percent of cases it’s naturally eliminated, often without any symptoms. But in a small fraction of cases it can eventually lead to cancer, in ways that have not been fully understood.”
These findings were published recently in Nature Communications by researchers from Oregon State University and a number of other universities or agencies in the United States, Norway and Brazil. Collaborators at OSU included Natalia Shulzhenko, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine.
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Alpha-catenin in HeLa human cervical cancer cells was labeled using mouse anti—catenin and visualized with Alexa Fluor® 488 goat anti-mouse IgG (green). Filamentous actin was visualized using red-fluorescent Alexa Fluor® 635 phalloidin. Nuclear DNA was stained with blue-fluorescent DAPI.