Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is the fourth most common cancer for women and the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer in the United States.
- An estimated 65,620 new cases of uterine cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020, with around 12,590 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- The incidence of uterine cancer is rising, mainly due to a rise in obesity, which is a key risk factor for this disease.
- Affecting mainly post-menopausal women, the average age of women diagnosed with uterine cancer is 60 years old.
- The overall five-year survival rate for uterine cancer is 81%.
- This cancer is slightly more common in Caucasian women, but African American women are more likely to die from it.
- Today, there are more than 600,000 uterine cancer survivors in the U.S.
Sources: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020 and American Society of Clinical Oncology (Cancer.Net)
Uterine Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack uterine cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
Dr. Wei Zhang has devoted his entire career to the pursuit of precision oncology – specifically to the key molecular and genomic events that drive the development and progression of cancer. For more than 20 years, Dr. Zhang has identified multiple novel cancer markers and oncogenic signaling molecules. His research addresses the variability in cellular properties, within and across cancer types, which often leads to treatment resistance and poor survival in patients.
Previous research by Dr. Zhang and his team identified genetic mutations in endometrioid endometrial carcinoma (EEC), the most common form of uterine cancer. These mutations revealed a more lethal version of an EEC subtype that was previously thought to respond well to treatment. If oncologists can identify the patients with this mutation early on, they may be able to try more aggressive treatment approaches that would increase the likelihood for positive outcomes.
Dr. Paul Fisher is developing novel therapies that deliver an immune modulator gene he discovered, IL/24, to primary and spreading tumor cells of many cancers, leaving healthy cells untouched. In models of endometrial cancer and numerous other types of cancer, IL/24 causes the tumor cells to commit ‘cell suicide’.
I/24 has other remarkable anti-cancer properties including activation of the immune system to further fight cancer and sensitizing tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. One type of IL/24 gene therapy in development also includes a gene that fluoresces (lights up) when IL/24 finds and destroys tumor cells for theranostic approach (detection and treatment-monitoring). Another therapy combines IL/24 with a patient’s own immune T cells (adoptive cell therapy) to supercharge the T cells to fight cancer. Research is advancing quickly so patients with many types of cancer may benefit from these groundbreaking therapies.
With support from NFCR, Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee are first advancing the lL/24 therapies for the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. IL/24 gene therapy will advance soon to a Phase I clinical trial to provide GBM patients hope for a new effective treatment.
Dr. Kathryn Horwitz’s laboratory, that received NFCR funding for 30 years, focuses on the hormones estradiol and progesterone and their role in breast cancer. Dr. Horwitz’s research has shown that dormant or “sleeping” tumors can be “awakened” by hormones. Her team’s studies have led to a better understanding of the significance of cell subtypes in luminal cancers, their role in initiating tumors and in spawning dormant mini-tumors at metastatic sites, and the roles of estradiol and progesterone in tumor arousal and recurrence. This work may also have a strong influence on the understanding and treatment of other hormone-related cancers, such as uterine and prostate cancer.