Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) has been implicated in tumour growth and extension of ovarian cancer. Peritoneal fluid in ovarian cancer patients contains various growth factors that can promote tumour growth and extension. In order to investigate the clinical significance of EGFR ligands as activating factors of ovarian cancer, we examined the cell proliferation- promoting activity and the level of EGFR ligands in peritoneal fluid obtained from 99 patients. Proliferation-promoting activity in peritoneal fluid from 63 ovarian cancer patients (OVCA) was much higher than peritoneal fluid from 18 ovarian cyst patients (OVC) and 18 normal ovary patients (NO), and the activity was suppressed only by antibodies against EGFR or heparin-binding epidermal growth factor (HB-EGF). A large difference was observed in the level of EGFR ligands between HB-EGF and TGF-α or amphiregulin. The concentration of HB-EGF in OVCA significantly increased compared to that in OVC or NO (P < 0.01). No significant difference in the concentration of TGF-α and amphiregulin was found between the OVCA and NO or OVC groups. In peritoneal fluid, HB-EGF is sufficiently elevated to activate cancer cells even at an early stage of OVCA. These results suggested that HB-EGF in peritoneal fluid might play a key role in cell survival and in the proliferation of OVCA.
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