Research is essential to addressing rising cancer rates in women

World Cancer Day – A new report says that cancer rates in women are set to rise far more quickly than those in men over the next 20 years. It states that:

• Cancer incidence will increase nearly 6x faster in women
• Smoking and obesity are important factors in the increase
• Ovarian, cervical and oral cancers are where rates are predicted to rise the most
• Cancer remains the leading cause of death in the world

We are currently funding Dr Felicity May and her collaborators at Newcastle University to undertake research understanding why some gynaecological cancer tumours respond better to hormonal treatments (commonly used to treat breast cancers) than others. It’s hoped we will then be able to identify in advance the tumours which will respond well to this treatment, in order to offer women the best possible care. This is particularly relevant as Dr May is looking at oestrogen-dependent gynaecological cancers, and oestrogens are higher in obese women (and men).

We asked Dr May to comment on today’s report:
“Today’s report highlights the likelihood that cancer diagnoses will increase much faster in women than in men over the next twenty years. The main reason for this prediction is that many of the cancers that are higher in overweight people are ‘women’s cancers’. Amongst these cancers, the report names ovarian and cervical cancers, but endometrial cancer is the cancer that is associated most strongly with obesity and breast cancer diagnoses are significantly higher in post-menopausal women who are overweight than in thinner women. Cancers caused by smoking will increase also more in women because, in general, women started smoking more recently than men.

How can research supported by Wellbeing of Women contribute?
Clearly, prevention is better than cure and we must educate women of the cancer-associated risks of being overweight. The benefits of clear public education are exemplified by the fall lung cancer diagnoses in men in response to reduced smoking rates. The best advice for women would be to stop smoking, lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight. The next best advice would be to act upon suspicions that all is not well and visit their GP.

Research of the kind funded by Wellbeing of Women is essential to identify and implement means by which we can detect cancers early enough to allow clinicians to cure women. Improved knowledge about effective biomarkers and treatments for women with cancers would ensure appropriate and effective stratification of patients for best treatment.”

Wellbeing of Women’s Research – Making a Difference
Wellbeing of Women has had important recent successes with research aiming to improve treatments for gynaecological cancers. Dr Vanitha Sivalingam showed that the drug metformin (commonly used to treat diabetes) could be an effective treatment for womb cancer. This work has led to the design of a clinical trial to answer the important question as to whether metformin can have a clinical role in preventing and treating womb cancer, the most common female reproductive cancer.

Dr Jo Morrison at Oxford University looked at enhancing the efficacy of virotherapy (using a virus to kill cancer tumour cells) to treat ovarian cancer. This project identified important ways to make virotherapy more effective in killing cancer cells, and crucially established that healthy cells around the tumour were not affected. This provided the ground work for ongoing clinical trials on gene therapy to treat ovarian cancer.

Dr Sarah Martin at Barts identified a drug called Triamterene, used for the treatment of high-blood pressure, which selectively and effectively kills cancer cells in the 30% of womb cancers which do not respond well to chemotherapy lacking MMR genes. Dr Martin conclusively identified that Triamterene, has potential as a treatment for a range of different tumour types – not only in womb cancer. Most excitingly, Dr Martin believes Triamterene could significantly improve patient survival. Dr Martin is now taking Triamterene forward to clinical trial, with the potential to transform care for women around the world.

We also have several projects ongoing to address the urgent need in gynaecological cancer: Dr Alex Taylor at the Royal Marsden is assessing the role of an exciting and powerful new radiotherapy technology, called ‘Cyberknife’, in treating recurrent gynaecological cancer; Dr Gordon Jayson at Manchester University is developing a blood test to identify which women will respond to an effective new drug treatment for ovarian cancer.

Today’s report underlines that research into gynaecological cancer has never been more important. With your support, we can ensure that women receive the best possible treatment and defeat gynaecological cancer. Please donate today.