A finding by an international team of researchers from Jefferson and Italy may eventually lead to a test that can predict the severity of endometrial cancer and help guide treatment.
Endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive tract. As with many cancers, endometrial cancer is much more treatable when caught in its earliest stage.
The researchers found that the less a particular "protective" gene is present in endometrial cancer cells, the more aggressive the disease will be and the greater the risk it will be fatal.
Antonio Giordano, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Jefferson Medical College, led the research team from Jefferson and the University of Florence and the Second University of Naples, Italy.
The researchers examined cancer cells from 100 patients who underwent surgery for endometrial cancer. The patients had no prior radiation or chemotherapy.
They found that, five years after surgery, lower levels of the tumor suppressor gene Rb2/p130 correlated with a higher risk than normal of the disease returning and proving fatal. In fact, fatalities occured at rates "four and a half times higher in women with these lower levels of the gene," Dr. Giordano says.
The team reported its findings in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"This is the first report that Rb2/p130 levels have been associated with survival with endometrial cancer," Dr. Giordano says. A diagnostic test could be developed within a few years, he suggests.
"These findings lend further support to the idea that pRb2 is a strong factor that protects normal cells from turning cancerous," he notes.
The gene has also been linked to other cancers, such as lung, bladder, osteosarcoma, breast and cervical.
Dr. Giordano thinks the findings may some day help doctors identify which women are at greater risk of recurring disease. As a result, they may be better able to select which endometrial cancer patients should have less aggressive surgery, and which individuals may be at higher risk for recurrence, perhaps requiring more treatment.
The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 36,000 new cases of endometrial cancer will be diagnosed in the United States during 1998. Some 6,300 women in the United States will die from the disease this year.