Ovarian cancers are often diagnosed at a late stage, after the cancer cells have spread to extraovarian sites. Failure to diagnose these tumors earlier may reflect the lack of symptoms and the need for a sensitive, reliable screening test. Alternatively, this can be explained by the hypothesis that some of the extraovarian tumor implants do not represent metastatic spread from the primary cancer but instead are multiple primary tumors developing simultaneously in the peritoneal epithelium. If this is the case, some patients with advanced ovarian cancer may never have had a stage I disease, making early detection theoretically impossible. In this study, we examined the mutational pattern of the p53 gene in 9 patients with epithelial ovarian cancers using tissue collected from different sites within the same patient. In all 9 cases, the mutational pattern of the p53 gene was identical in cancer cells from different sites within the same patient, strongly suggesting that these ovarian tumors were of unifocal origin and that cancer tissues collected from different sites are derived from a single origin.

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This study is supported in part by the William Graves Ovarian Cancer Fund, Boston, MA, and by a grant from Centocor, Inc., Malvern PA. Both C-H. M. and S-W. T. have made equal contributions to this work.

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