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A Different Prescription: Seeking Progress in Women’s Cancers

Monday, March 9, 2015

HEALTH AND LIFESTYLE advances in understanding the biological processes that drive women’s cancers are opening the door to new treatment approaches, including immunotherapies and vaccine-based treatments.

These are exciting days in cancer research. We are learning more about the biological processes that drive cancer and how to get them under control.

Learning to thrive

In women’s cancers, we are applying what we learn to treatment so that more women diagnosed with cancer will not just survive, but go on to live full, healthy lives. Our goal is to make those cases the rule, rather than the exception.

The battle against gynecological and other women’s cancer is proceeding on several fronts:

  • Research in my laboratory led to the discovery of the PI3K pathway, a biological “circuit” involved in cell growth and transformation. Alterations in this pathway can cause out-of-control growth—cancer, especially in endometrial, ovarian and breast cancers. With the support of leading organizations, new drugs are entering clinical trials at a faster pace than ever. Promising new drug combinations are now being tested in ovarian cancer, including combinations of drugs from different pharmaceutical companies, bringing commercial competitors into collaboration. In early trials of one new combination, several ovarian cancer patients had tumor shrinkage and many had stable disease for more than six months.

  • Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be prevented by vaccines. Vaccines can also be used to enable T cells in the body to attack cancer cells in a new approach to cancer treatment. Researchers are working to develop this method of vaccine-based treatment for HPV-related cancers.

  • One of the hottest fields in cancer research and treatment is immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. The SU2C-Cancer Research Institute Immunology Dream Team has launched six new clinical trials in the past nine months alone, with new trials in ovarian cancer planned. Hopefully this will shed new light on how the immunology approach can tackle women’s cancers.

These initiatives are very promising, and there is much more to do in women’s cancers.

Marching forward

Progress is urgently needed. Too many women are dying of these diseases. For now, prevention and early detection is the best course. HPV infection can be prevented by condom use, vaccination, and screening.

Vaccination against HPV is recommended for all girls and boys age 11-12. All women should have routine Pap test screens and should see their gynecologists regularly.

This guest feature by Lewis Cantley first appeared in Media Planet.