Womb cancer affects more than 9,000 women every year – and cases are rising rapidly.
Also known as endometrial or uterine cancer, it’s the fourth most-common cancer in women in the UK, and although older and overweight women are most at risk it can affect anyone of any age or weight.
Because of this connection, experts believe that increasing levels of obesity in the UK are behind the rise in cases.
It’s true that lots of women are cured by having a hysterectomy (when the womb is surgically removed), but going through this surgery can be gruelling, and it doesn’t work if the cancer has spread too far.
It would be better to prevent the cancer developing in the first place, but at the moment there aren’t tried and tested ways of doing this.
NIHR clinical lecturer and Wellbeing of Women womb cancer researcher, Dr Sarah Kitson, wants to change this.
By creating a tool that will help healthcare professionals spot women who are at greatest risk, Dr Kitson hopes that at-risk women will be able to take measures to prevent the cancer before it actually develops.
To create this tool, she will analyse information retrieved from GP records and the UK Biobank study (a huge library of medical data and samples from people in the UK) to assess the connection between certain factors – such as being overweight or having diabetes – and the risk of developing the disease.
Once she has assessed them, Dr Kitson will then use these risk factors to develop an easy to use tool for use by GPs and nurses to categorise women into those at low, medium or high risk of developing the cancer.
Dr Kitson hopes that GPs could use the tool to screen women between 40 and 55 and spot who is at risk, and then help them prevent developing the cancer.
In her project Dr Kitson will also explore what treatments could be tested in future clinical trials to reduce the chances of womb cancer developing in such women.
Dr Kitson said: “I hope that the model I’m developing would be something used routinely by GPs and nurses in general practice to identify women at high risk of womb cancer when they are invited to a check-up or follow-up appointment for their long-term medical condition.
“Using the tool I’d developed, women could automatically be assessed for their womb cancer risk, and women at high risk could also be invited to trial new ways of preventing womb cancer.”
Once complete, Dr Kitson’s project could mean that fewer women receive these devastating diagnoses every year by up to 50%, saving thousands of lives.