Background: Several lines of evidence have suggested a relationship between a woman's number of ovulatory cycles and the development of ovarian epithelial cancer. Repair of the ovarian surface after ovulation requires cellular proliferation, and spontaneous mutations arising during the DNA synthesis that accompanies this proliferation may play a role in carcinogenesis.
Purpose: We conducted a molecular epidemiologic study to test the hypothesis that a greater number of ovulatory cycles increases the risk of ovarian cancer by inducing proliferation-associated DNA damage. In particular, we examined the association between the lifetime number of ovulatory cycles and mutation of the p53 tumor-suppressor gene (also known as TP53) in ovarian tumors.
Methods: Case-case and case-control analyses involving participants in the Cancer and Steroid Hormone study were used to examine the association between p53 gene mutation in ovarian tumors and the lifetime number of ovulatory cycles. The women in our study were 20-54 years of age and included 197 case patients with invasive ovarian epithelial cancer and 3363 control subjects. Mutation of the p53 gene was indicated by overexpression of p53 protein (i.e., cellular accumulation of mutant p53 protein) in paraffin-embedded ovarian cancer tissue blocks; the mutant protein was detected by means of standard immunohistochemical techniques. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated by employing multivariate analyses, with the use of logistic regression. Reported P values are two-sided.
Results: Women whose cancers overexpressed p53 protein (p53 positive) had a greater mean number of lifetime ovulatory cycles (388 +/- 77.4 cycles [mean +/- standard deviation]) than women whose cancers did not overexpress p53 protein (p53 negative) (342 +/- 119.0 cycles) (P = .0025). Furthermore, women with p53-positive tumors were more likely to have had moderate (i.e., 235-375) or high (i.e., 376-533) numbers of ovulatory cycles than women with p53-negative tumors (age-adjusted ORs = 7.0 [95% CI = 1.6-30.5] and 7.7 [95% CI = 1.4-41.2], respectively) (< or = 234 cycles was the referent category). After controlling for age, menopausal status, and nulliparity, women with p53-positive tumors were found to be significantly more likely to have had moderate or high numbers of ovulatory cycles than control subjects (ORs = 4.3 [95% CI = 1.4-13.0] and 9.1 [95% CI = 2.7-30.9], respectively); the corresponding ORs for women with p53-negative tumors compared with control subjects were 0.6 (95% CI = 0.3-1.4) and 1.3 (95% CI = 0.5-3.2), respectively.
Conclusions and implications: A higher number of ovulatory cycles may be associated with increased amounts of proliferation-associated DNA damage and increased risk of developing p53-positive but not p53-negative epithelial ovarian cancer. Our results are consistent with more than one developmental pathway in the pathogenesis of this type of cancer.