Working to save the lives of women with gynaecological cancer
Over 21,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer each year. Womb cancer (also known as uterine cancer and endometrial cancer) is the 4th most common cancer in women in the UK and there has been a dramatic rise in its incidence over the past 20 years. Ovarian cancer is the 6th most common cancer in UK women and the 5th most common cause of cancer death. Its incidence has also increased in recent years.
It is only by investing in research that we can hope to improve the diagnosis and treatment of these cancers which sadly still affect so many women. Over the last 52 years, Wellbeing of Women has invested over £11 million into gynaecological cancer research. Our achievements in this area include establishing a research centre to focus on cervical cancer as well as the creation of a ground-breaking womb cancer tissue bank which has made a considerable impact on this under-studied gynaecological malignancy.
Our early-stage research training grants, meanwhile, have helped to develop some of the most eminent scientists in the field. Professor Henry Kitchener, for example, is a world-leading authority focusing on cervical cancer and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and has played a leading role in vaccination studies, screening and diagnostics. Most notably, his work has contributed to the HPV vaccine that is now given to thousands of young girls across the UK each year to prevent cervical cancer. Professor Kitchener states that Wellbeing of Women’s early funding was the “defining event” in setting him on course for an academic career.
Some of our most recent research includes pioneering more targeted gynaecological cancer treatments which will be more effective and have fewer side-effects for the patient. Details about our more recent research are included below:
All Gynaecological Cancers
Dr Alexandra Taylor at the Royal Marsden Hospital recently pioneered the use of cutting-edge CyberKnife® technology to cure gynaecological cancer tumours. CyberKnife® is a novel treatment using a high energy X-ray machine fixed on a robotic arm that moves very rapidly in all directions. It can monitor and adjust in real-time to track patient or tumour movement, targeting malignant cancer cells and minimising damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
The development of CyberKnife® technology means that patients can receive larger doses of therapy, as the treatment is contained to the cancerous tissue, thus minimising side effects and meaning that a patient can spend less time in hospital. This innovative treatment presents new options for patients whose cancer previously would have been untreatable due to the tumour’s location which would have made safe delivery of the required radiotherapy impossible.
Rachel Pounds at the University of Birmingham is using new technology to find out why cancer cells are resistant to chemotherapy to improve treatments for ovarian cancer. It is the most-deadly of all the gynaecological cancers claiming the lives of 4,300 women a year in the UK. Using a new technology, Dr Pound will analyse individual cells within ovarian cancer tumours to identify the specific genes associated with the chemotherapy-resistant cancer cells.
Dr Nina Wietek at the University of Oxford is testing a new method of identifying precancerous cells in ovarian cancer. Around 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in the UK – only 1 in 3 will be alive ten years later. One of the reasons ovarian cancer is diagnosed late is due to our limited understanding of the course that the disease takes. Dr Wietek aims to find out more about how normal tissue progresses to pre-cancer and then to cancer. If successful, this could be used to identify a marker for early detection and prevention for women who are at high-risk of the disease.
Studies have shown that people taking the drug metformin to treat diabetes have lower rates of cancer than average and respond better to traditional cancer treatment. Metformin has shown promise as a treatment for breast cancer and data suggests it could also be effective in treating womb cancer.
Dr Vanitha Sivalingam’s study at the University of Manchester is the first to investigate the use of metformin in womb cancer patients and found that short-term metformin treatment is associated with a decrease in endometrial cancer cell growth. Metformin is a very safe and inexpensive drug that can be taken for long periods of time, with minimal side effects.
At present, patients who have curative surgery for endometrial cancer do not take any additional treatment to prevent the cancer from coming back. While the risk of recurrence is very low, taking metformin after surgery may reduce this risk even further. In addition, if patients need further chemotherapy or radiotherapy after surgery, metformin may make the cancer cells more sensitive to these treatments. This work has helped in the design of a clinical trial comparing metformin with a placebo drug, which will help answer the important question of whether metformin may have a clinical role in preventing and treating endometrial cancer.
Dr Sarah Martin and her team at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Margaret’s University London are working to find a new treatment for womb cancer by identifying re-purposed drugs that are already licensed, to specifically target the malfunctioning cancerous cells without damaging the healthy cells. This research is vital for the identification for new, tailored treatments for endometrial cancer patients, with reduced side-effects and increased patient survival.
RESEARCH IS THE ONLY WAY TO CHANGE THIS
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