WEDNESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- A hormone receptor normally confined to the reproductive organs has been detected in malignant tumors in many parts of the body, researchers report.

Researchers from the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, working with French government scientists, say this common link may offer a new target for the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

They evaluated tumor tissue samples from 1,336 men and women with 11 common cancers, including prostate, breast, colon, pancreatic, lung, liver and ovarian. The analyses revealed the presence of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) receptor in the blood vessel cells of the tumors.

This receptor is not found on blood vessels in normal tissue, with the exception of the reproductive organs, where it is present in much lower concentrations than in tumors, said the American and French researchers. (In women, FSH, which interacts with the FSH-receptor, normally helps control the menstrual cycle and egg production; in men, FSH normally helps control the production of sperm.)

Activating the FSH receptor contributes to the signaling of a protein (VEGF) that stimulates the growth of blood vessels, including those in tumors. Blocking the action of the FSH receptor may also block the signaling of VEGF.

"This new tumor marker may be used to improve cancer detection," study lead author Aurelian Radu, an assistant professor of developmental and regenerative biology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said in a Mount Sinai Medical Center news release.

"Tumor imaging agents that bind to the new marker could be injected in the [body's blood vessel system] and would make visible early tumors located anywhere in the body using magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, or ultrasound imaging," Radu explained.

In addition, new treatments "can be developed that will block the tumor blood supply, either by inhibiting formation of new blood vessels, blocking the blood flow by coagulation, or by destroying the existing tumor vessels."

The study appears in the Oct. 21 issue of the The New England Journal of Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about treatments that target tumor blood vessels.