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J Natl Cancer Inst. 1995 Aug 2;87(15):1146-53.

Genetic disparity between morphologically benign cysts contiguous to ovarian carcinomas and solitary cystadenomas.

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Department of Pathology, Kenneth Norris Jr. Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles 90033, USA.



Ovarian carcinomas occasionally contain large, histologically benign cysts contiguous to the clearly malignant areas (cystadenocarcinomas). The question of whether such cysts are remnants of pre-existing benign tumors (cystadenomas) or constitute integral components of the carcinomas is important in clarifying the role of cystadenomas in ovarian carcinogenesis. It is also important for our general understanding of tumor heterogeneity, a phenomenon thought to result from the gradual accumulation of genetic abnormalities in initially homogeneous tumors. This question is also pertinent to the clinical management of ovarian cystadenomas, which are frequent in women of childbearing age and are usually treated surgically based on the possibility that they may give rise to carcinomas.


Reasoning that molecular markers of ovarian malignancy would be confined to the histologically malignant portions of cystadenocarcinomas if the morphologically benign portions are in fact pre-existing typical cystadenomas, we sought to verify that mutations in the p53 tumor suppressor gene are markers of malignancy in ovarian tumors and to determine the distribution of such mutations in cystadenocarcinomas.


We used immunohistochemical and DNA-sequencing techniques to analyze 46 ovarian carcinomas, 21 ovarian tumors of low malignant potential, and 16 solitary cystadenomas for the presence of p53 mutations. We then used similar techniques to examine the distribution of such mutations in different portions of cystadenocarcinomas. The observed differences in mutation frequencies were analyzed by the two-tailed Fisher's exact test.


Mutations in the p53 gene were present in 24 (52%) of the 46 carcinomas, but they were absent in the 21 tumors of low malignant potential (P < .0001) and the 16 solitary cystadenomas (P = .0002). Six of six cystadenocarcinomas with p53 mutations showed the presence of the same mutations in the adjacent, histologically benign cysts. The mutations were seen not only in cells immediately adjacent to the carcinomas, but also throughout the morphologically benign cysts. Twenty (83%) of the 24 cases showing mutation of one p53 allele also showed loss of genetic heterozygosity, suggesting that the other p53 allele was deleted. Such allelic loss, if present in morphologically malignant portions of cystadenocarcinomas, was also observed in the contiguous cysts.


Ovarian carcinomas can be distinguished from ovarian cystadenomas and tumors of low malignant potential by p53 mutations. The fact that the mutations were present in histologically benign cysts contiguous to ovarian carcinomas suggests that such cysts are not typical cystadenomas and may carry a genetic predisposition to carcinogenesis that is not present in ordinary cystadenomas.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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