NFCR-Supported Scientist Discovers Genetic Marker That Will Lead to Better Treatment for Women with Endometrial Cancer

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More than 80% of endometrial cancers are endometrioid endometrial carcinoma (EEC). The majority of EEC cases are diagnosed at early stage with low grade pathological changes and good clinical outcomes.

National Foundation for Cancer Research

If there was a way to identify the patients whose cancers were more aggressive, we could match them with more aggressive treatments early on. Better knowledge at diagnosis could help save these women’s lives.

Scientists at the NFCR Center for Cancer Systems Informatics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have discovered a genetic marker that will allow physicians to determine whether to pursue early, aggressive treatment for women diagnosed with low-grade endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer, or cancer of the uterus, is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, with over 52,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths expected in the United States in 2014.

More than 80% of endometrial cancers are endometrioid endometrial carcinoma (EEC). The majority of EEC cases are diagnosed at early stage with low grade pathological changes and good clinical outcomes. However, even low-grade EEC sometimes turns out to be aggressive and deadly.

The research was led by Wei Zhang, Ph.D., with support in part from the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Zhang’s team was looking for a smoking gun: the molecular signature that defines patients with endometrial cancer who are at high risk for an aggressive disease. Using advanced genetic profiling techniques – including whole-exome sequencing, RNA sequencing, and RPPA profiling – the researchers analyzed over 200 tumor samples.

“We wanted to understand why low-grade EEC is treatable for some patients but deadly for others,” said Dr. Zhang. “If there was a way to identify the patients whose cancers were more aggressive, we could match them with more aggressive treatments early on. Better knowledge at diagnosis could help save these women’s lives.”

The analysis revealed that a specific mutation in the gene CTNNB1 was significantly associated with poor clinical outcome of EEC. Women that have CTNNB1 mutation in their cancer thus might benefit from more individualized and aggressive treatment than is typically offered to patients with low-grade EEC.

“Personalized treatment is the wave of the future for cancer patients,” said NFCR President Franklin Salisbury, Jr. “When we use the cutting-edge tools of genomics to match the right treatments to patients, the results are spectacular. This is why we founded the NFCR Center for Cancer Systems Informatics. We could not be more proud of the work done by Dr. Zhang and his team.”

The results of Dr. Zhang’s research are published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

About the National Foundation for Cancer Research

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is a leading cancer research charity dedicated to funding cancer research and public education relating to cancer prevention, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for cancer. NFCR promotes and facilitates collaboration among scientists to accelerate the pace of discovery from bench to bedside. NFCR is committed to Research for a Cure - cures for all types of cancer. For more information, visit http://www.nfcr.org/ or call (800) 321-CURE (2873).

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Adam Belmar
National Foundation for Cancer Research
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