In September, the 5th edition of the World Health Organization Classification of Female Genital Tract Tumours (“WHO Blue Book”) was published, and the work of BC Cancer’s Ovarian Cancer Research (OVCARE) team has been influential on the subject.

Each volume of the WHO Blue Book is produced with input from experts around the world (pathologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, geneticists and radiologists) who combine available data to provide the most up-to-date clinically relevant tumour classification system.

The indispensable content is used by cancer specialists around the world, and OVCARE’s work influencing this highly touted publication is a remarkable feat.

“This is a huge external validation of our work,” says Dr. Blake Gilks, co-founder of OVCARE and internationally recognized expert in gynecologic pathology. “We’re here to make an impact and to make a difference for the women facing these cancers – this is what research is all about.”

OVCARE’s work has been highly influential in the progress of the classification of tumors of the ovary, fallopian tube, endometrium and vulva in particular.

Their findings help further the understanding that cancer isn’t a singular disease with a one-size-fits-all solution, impacting the way in which it’s diagnosed and treated.

“The general theme is that ovarian, endometrial, cervical cancer –they’re not just one disease, they are all made up of different diseases that require different treatments and can have different outcomes,” says Dr. Gilks. “If you treat them all the same, you run the risk of over-treating some and under-treating others.”

Over the years, BC Cancer Foundation donors have played a pivotal role in fueling this critical work.

“OVCARE only exists because of donor support,” says Dr. Gilks. “We can’t thank donors enough for their support.”

Some of OVCARE’s key research highlights (also mirrored in the 2020 WHO Blue Book) include:

  • The team published a series of studies demonstrating that there are five subtypes of ovarian carcinoma and that these differ with respect to risk factors, response to therapy and outcomes. The importance of ovarian carcinoma subtypes has opened the door to new treatments and prevention strategies that are subtype specific.
     
  • Sex cord-stromal tumors of the ovary are uncommon and were poorly understood until a series of landmark studies from OVCARE described the molecular abnormalities that characterize adult granulosa cell tumor, the most common malignant tumor in this category, as well as Sertoli-Leydig cell tumor, a closely related tumor.
     
  • OVCARE developed a molecular classifier for endometrial carcinoma (referred to as the Proactive Molecular classifier of Endometrial Carcinoma, or ProMisE), and the transformational nature of this discovery is reflected in the 2020 WHO Blue Book.
     
  • The team published a series of studies showing that the vulvar carcinomas unrelated to Human Papillomavirus have a worse prognosis than those where Human Papillomavirus is involved in tumor formation. This has important implications for treatment and the classification of vulvar carcinoma in the 2020 WHO Blue Book has been completely overhauled to reflect this.
     

Continued donor support will help further propel this vital research, reaching new milestones and changing the outcome for women facing cancer in our province and beyond.

Building on these past successes, fueled by the support of generous donors, OVCARE has partnered with clinicians and researchers across the province to form the Gynecologic Cancer Initiative to reduce the incidence, mortality and suffering from all gynecologic cancer by 50% over the next 15 years.

“This is only just the tip of it,” says Dr. Gilks. “Thanks to donor support, we’re not just helping people in B.C. – we’re making a difference around the world.”

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