An international team of researchers led by OCRF grantee Anil Sood, MD has found that elevated platelet levels in ovarian cancer patients fuel tumor growth and reduce survival. These findings reveal a new factor in cancer progression and a possible new approach for treatment. The study, which was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, was funded in part by an OCRF Program Project Development Grant to Dr. Sood, who is senior author on the paper.
“We’ve long known that ovarian cancer patients often have markedly increased platelet counts but we haven’t known why this happens or understood its relevance, if any, to disease progression,” said senior author Dr. Sood, who is a professor in MD Anderson’s Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, and Cancer Biology.
“Our collaborative study not only identified a mechanism that explains platelet count elevation, but also connects this state, called thrombocytosis, to the severity of ovarian cancer,” Sood said. “This suggests drugs that interfere with coagulation might be a useful addition to conventional therapies.”
While the researchers note that platelets probably promote cancer growth by strengthening tumor blood vessels, the precise mechanisms involved remain unknown.
The authors note their findings might explain why some blood-thinning agents improve survival in some cancer patients independent of their prevention of vascular blood clotting, and why, in a clinical trial, daily use of aspirin after diagnosis of colorectal cancer also improved survival.
Platelet levels may also serve as biomarkers for ovarian and other cancers, Rebecca Stone, MD, clinical fellow in gynecologic oncology and the first author of the study, noted. “If you see high platelets, absent inflammation or iron deficiency, it would be important to look for cancer.”
Adapted from the MD Anderson Press Release.