Uterine cervical cancer arises from the cervix and is associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in more than 90% of the cases. Although this link is established, doctors still don’t understand why some women have an risk of developing this disease which is the second most common cancer worldwide. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis, a type of study that tries to aggregate all present scientific knowledge about one particular question, published in the PLOS ONE journal, gives new insights on one plausible risk factor.
Several genes involved in cervical cancer genesis are under investigation, including the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes that normally protect healthy cells from cancerous progression. Of these, the inactivation of the Death-Associated Protein Kinase 1 (DAPK1) gene by a process called methylation has been frequently associated with the development of the disease. This is of great interest for researchers as it can be used in novel early screening and cancer follow-up methods to address women with HPV infection and predict if a particular patient is at risk of developing cancer.
A team of researchers from University of Catania, Italy, led by Dr. Antonella Agodi, did a systematic literature search and summarized the current published studies that evaluate the methylation of DAPK1 as a risk factor for cervical cancer. Results from 20 previous studies show, after careful adjustment, that there is a strong association between DAPK1 methylation and cervical cancer. Furthermore, this association is seen independently of the histological type of cervical cancer and several in-depth (subgroup) analyses were made to confirm these results.
The inactivation of this gene is under investigation in several studies for many different cancers. Scientific evidence shown and reviewed in this scientific paper adds important clues to this discussion. In the future, DAPK1 might be included in diagnostic lab tests for prediction of cancer risk, reassurance of anxious patients and potential less frequent Pap smear screening. But, for that to happen, future research has to focus in clinical studies and outcomes. The development of personalized cervical cancer diagnosis and risk calculation is the logical next step in the management of this malignancy.