June 2013

Gene Tests May Improve Therapy for Endometrial Cancer

By analyzing genes in hundreds of endometrial tumors, scientists identified details that might lead to more targeted therapies for some patients. 

Endometrial cancer affects the lining of the uterus. It’s the 4th most common cancer among women in the United States. Experts predict that nearly 50,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease in 2013. Over 8,000 deaths will likely result.

There are 2 main types of endometrial cancer. People with type I (endometroid) tumors usually have a good chance for recovery. People with type II (serous) tumors tend to have a less favorable outcome.

Disease experts known as pathologists determine tumor types by looking at tissues under a microscope. But categorizing these tissues can be difficult, and specialists often disagree on the diagnosis.

In a new study, NIH-funded researchers found that about 1 in 4 tumors classified by pathologists as high-grade endometrioid have genetic changes much like that of serous tumors. This suggests that patients with these tumors may benefit from similar treatments.

The scientists also found genetic similarities between endometrial cancers and other types of tumors. Type II endometrial tumors share features with subtypes of breast and ovarian cancers. These parallels might now be explored for therapies.

The scientists say their findings may lead to more personalized approaches for diagnosing and treating endometrial cancer. “Developing therapies for each subtype independent of the other may improve outcomes,” says study co-leader Dr. Elaine Mardis of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.