2019 State of Gynecologic Cancers
Many patients are not aware the gynecologic oncology specialty exists. They may instead seek treatment with an OB-GYN or medical oncologist when faced with a gynecologic cancer-related issue. But studies show that women who are treated initially by a care team headed by a gynecologic oncologist experience better outcomes.
The Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) is the premier medical specialty society for health care professionals trained in the comprehensive management of gynecologic cancers. The SGO has been at the forefront of advancing this specialty since it was founded in 1969. The Foundation for Women’s Cancer (FWC), the official foundation of the SGO, supports the mission to eradicate gynecologic cancer through awareness, research and education.
As we celebrate the SGO’s 50th anniversary, the FWC felt it was an important time to take a look at recent, significant advances made in the prevention, detection and treatment of gynecologic cancers.
As you browse through the major gynecologic cancer sites, you’ll learn about revolutionary discoveries such as the HPV vaccine, the first treatment developed to prevent any type of cancer. You may be surprised to learn that nearly 100 percent of all cervical cancers, two-thirds of all incidences of vaginal cancer, and more than half of all vulvar cancers are linked to a persistent infection from the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
The HPV vaccine was recently updated to protect against nine strains of this virus, and the FDA recently approved its use for men and women up to ages 27-45. The vaccine’s use is much more widespread in countries outside the U.S. Therefore, the Foundation for Women’s Cancer promotes the increase of HPV vaccination rates at state and national levels, with an emphasis on boys and girls 11-12 years old, the most optimal age to receive this vaccine.
Groundbreaking New Therapies
We’re excited to share news about immunotherapies, one of the most promising treatments to emerge for gynecologic cancer. Before immunotherapies, cancer treatment included surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. Immunotherapies are showing benefits in prolonged disease control, or longer survival rates.
Pembrolizumab is one of several new immunotherapies developed recently and has been approved to treat certain types of gynecologic cancers, including uterine and cervical. Pembrolizumab could provide benefit for up to 30 percent of patients with advanced endometrial cancer. Recent reports also show that some women with chemotherapy-resistant GTN (gestational trophoblastic neoplasia) respond well to immunotherapies when multiple cycles of chemotherapy have failed.
PARP inhibitors are another recent breakthrough in cancer treatment. PARP inhibitors are being developed for multiple indications, the most significant being the treatment of ovarian cancer. Experts say they are changing the landscape for ovarian cancer treatment.
Another innovative treatment method, sentinel lymph node mapping, is changing the standard of care for some gynecologic cancers. Sentinel lymph node mapping can safely replace pelvic lymphadenectomy in staging certain types of cancer such as endometrial. And for patients with early stage vulvar cancer, sentinel lymph node biopsy has become the new standard of care.
Genetic testing is another area in gynecologic oncology that continues to evolve. Genetic tests now screen not only for BRCA1 and BRAC2, the most common gene mutations, but for a complete panel of genes less frequently associated with the risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer. Researchers also are working to develop a test that can diagnose ovarian cancer in its earliest stages.
Survival rates for many types of gynecologic cancer continues to climb. Advances are being made every year. But funding for clinical trials has been eroded. Rare cancers are challenging to study due to their low incidence rates.
The SGO and FWC remain undeterred, however, in our collective goal to continue to advance innovation to eradicate gynecologic cancer. Please click on one of the major cancer types to discover more about recent advances made in the prevention, detection and treatment of gynecologic cancer.
Additional Resources Used
NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Ovarian Cancer Including Fallopian Tube Cancer and Primary Peritoneal Cancer. Version 1.2015.
Next Section: Vaginal Cancer
About 5,170 new cases of vaginal cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., making it one of the rarest of gynecological cancers.
Vulvar cancer is a rare type of gynecologic cancer. Major advances recently have been made in the prevention and treatment of this disease.
Uterine cancer is the most common type of gynecologic cancer and the fourth most common cancer among women.