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Fat pads in the abdomen feed ovarian cancer cells

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Abdominal fat pads feed and help ovarian cancer spread rapidly

Researchers have discovered that ovarian cancer rapidly spreads to fat pads in the abdominal cavity. In an effort to understand how to control the spread of ovarian cancer, scientists from University of Chicago conducted experiments to find out what attracts ovarian cancer cells to fatty tissue within the abdominal cavity.

Study author Ernst Lengyel, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago said, “This fatty tissue, which is extraordinarily rich in energy-dense lipids, acts as a launching pad and energy source for the likely lethal spread of ovarian cancer.

The cells that make up the omentum contain the biological equivalent of jet fuel. They feed the cancer cells, enabling them to multiply rapidly. Gaining a better understanding of this process could help us learn how to disrupt it."

The area that 80 percent of ovarian cancers spread to before they’re even diagnosed is called the omentum, which extends from the stomach to the intestines.

For their study, the researchers injected mice with ovarian cancer cells. They found the cancer made its way to the omentum within 20 minutes.

Once there, the cancer feeds on lipids, changing the metabolism of cells in the abdominal lining; turning normal cells into ovarian cancer.

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The researchers also discovered that only ovarian cancer cells next to fat in the omentum produced high levels of fatty acid binding protein (FABP4), but more distant cells did not.

When they inhibited the production of FABP4 nutrients in the omentum, tumor cells stopped growing. There was no longer a transfer of nutrients between the fat pads in the stomach and the cancer cells.

The authors wrote, “FABP4 emerges as an excellent target in the treatment of intra-abdominally disseminating tumors, which preferentially metastasize to adipose tissue such as ovarian, gastric, and colon cancers.”

They also note the finding could also be applied to other types of cancer where fat cells are abundant, such as breast cancer.

Researchers have known that lipids in fat promote the spread of cancer cells, which in part explains why obesity is a risk factor for cancer.

Understanding how ovarian cancer quickly spreads to fat pads in the stomach lining could provide new targets for treating cancers that are prone to spread in areas where fat is more abundant.

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Image credit: Wikimedia commons



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