September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month
join with the aacr to find better ways to prevent and treat gynecologic cancers
Gynecologic cancers encompass all cancers of the female reproductive system, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and vulva. All women are at risk for these cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2023 more than 106,000 women in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with a gynecological cancer, and more than 32,000 will die from one. Each gynecological cancer has different signs and symptoms, as well as different risk factors. Risk increases with age.
The major categories of gynecologic cancers are:
Infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV) is almost always the cause of cervical cancer. Women who do not regularly have tests to detect HPV or abnormal cells in the cervix are at increased risk of cervical cancer.
There are three types of ovarian cancer in adults, including ovarian epithelial cancer, which begins in the tissue covering the ovary, lining of the fallopian tube, or the peritoneum; ovarian germ cell tumors, which start in the egg or germ cells; and ovarian low malignant potential tumors, which begin in the tissue covering the ovary.
Uterine cancer forms in the tissues of the uterus, the organ in which a fetus develops. The two types of uterine cancer are endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma.
Endometrial cancer forms in the tissues of the endometrium – the lining of the uterus. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes may increase the risk of endometrial cancer.
Uterine Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the uterine muscles or in tissues that support the uterus. Exposure to X-rays during radiation therapy can increase the risk of uterine sarcoma.
Treatment with the breast cancer drug tamoxifen is a risk factor for both types of uterine cancer.
There are two main types of vaginal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. A rare type of adenocarcinoma is linked to being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.
Adenocarcinomas not linked with being exposed to DES are most common in women after menopause.
Vulvar cancer forms in a woman’s external genitalia. Vulvar cancer most often affects the outer vaginal lips.
Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time. This condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). Because it is possible for VIN to become vulvar cancer, it is important to get treatment.
Risk factors for vulvar cancer include having VIN, HPV infection, and having a history of genital warts.
ONE WOMAN’S STORY
Jaclyn “Jackie” Vanraaphorst is seeing good results from a newly approved treatment for ovarian cancer. “It is extremely important to continue the research and development on new therapies for all different types of cancer,” she says. Read her story in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2023:
What is the AACR Doing in Gynecologic cancer research?
The AACR is committed to supporting the ovarian cancer workforce and ovarian cancer patients. In October 2023, the AACR presented its sixth biennial AACR Special Conference: Ovarian Cancer in Boston. This meeting addressed important needs in ovarian cancer research, including epidemiology and prevention, immunology, tumor microenvironment, drug discovery, epigenetics and epitranscriptomics, and rare ovarian tumors, among other topics.
In November 2023, the AACR Special Conference in Cancer Research: Endometrial Cancer: Transforming Care Through Science addressed prevention and screening, targeted therapies, and metabolic and immunologic approaches, among other topics.
The AACR’s blog, Cancer Research Catalyst, carried an interview with scientists co-chairing these special conferences: AACR Special Conferences Gather Investigators Advancing Research on Gynecologic Cancers.
The AACR has recently awarded research grants to investigators pursuing promising research related to gynecologic cancers.
In 2023, Joyce Liu, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, received a Victoria’s Secret Global Fund for Women’s Cancers Rising Innovator Research Grant, in Partnership with Pelotonia & AACR, to study whether targeting replication stress with combined inhibition of the WEE1 and ATR kinases will have synergistic activity in high-grade endometrial cancer. The findings from these studies will provide critical information that could identify a novel active targeted therapy for these cancers.
Two scientists received grants for ovarian cancer research in 2022 from the Victoria’s Secret Global Fund for Women’s Cancers Career Development Award, in Partnership with Pelotonia and the AACR:
- Martina McDermott, PhD, of UCLA, is assessing the potential of the protein CLDN16 as a target in gynecological cancers, a critical step toward testing the clinical efficacy of a CLDN16-based antibody drug conjugate (ADC) in patients with CLDN16-positive ovarian and endometrial cancers.
- Shuang Zhang, PhD, of the Guangzhou Medical University in China, plans to examine the molecular features and the differentiation hierarchy of cancer stem cells in high-grade serous ovarian cancer.
Also in 2022, Ksenija Nesic, PhD, of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia and Anna Salvioni, PharmD, PhD, University Cancer Institute Toulouse Oncopole (IUCT Oncopole) in France were awarded AACR-AstraZeneca Ovarian Cancer Research Fellowships.
- Dr. Nesic is using genome-wide CRISPR screens to identify both novel mechanisms of resistance to PARP inhibitors, and targets of PARP inhibitor synergy, in ovarian cancer cell line models with different DNA defects.
- By characterizing populations of T cells in ovarian cancer samples with different homologous recombination deficiency (HRD) status, Dr. Salvioni aims to elucidate how HRD shapes the immune landscape of tumors.
Sung-Min Hwang, PhD, of Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City was awarded an AACR-Bristol Myers Squibb Immuno-oncology Research Fellowship in 2022. Dr. Hwang aims to explore how XBP1 protein signaling operates as a novel transcriptional regulator controlling the expression of factors required for optimal T cell activation, differentiation, and anti-tumor function in ovarian cancer.
Roberto Vargas, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio was awarded a 2022 AACR Career Development Award to Further Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Clinical Cancer Research. This award is supporting his work aimed at improving clinical outcomes for endometrial cancer, an understudied disease with a growing incidence and poorly understood clinical outcome.