Protein offers clue to uterine cancer severity, survival

June 14, 2013 | by Nicole White

Though endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological cancer, there are no screening tests for the disease and only limited treatments for women whose cancer isn’t eliminated through surgery or radiation. But new City of Hope research could ultimately pave the way both for targeted treatments and screening via blood tests.

blood tests No blood tests can currently detect endometrial cancer. That could change.

Using data from the National Institutes of Health Cancer Genome Atlas Project, started in 2005 to catalog genetic mutations responsible for cancer, an analysis of 451 tumor samples found that a specific protein is associated with the most severe cases of endometrial, or uterine, cancer.

“For those women whose cancer persists after surgery and radiation, we don’t have many good options for them now, and additionally, we don’t have good screening tools for uterine cancers,” said lead author Thanh Dellinger, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at City of Hope.

“This protein is detectable in serum from the blood, and could potentially be a blood marker for screening and monitoring purposes.”

Endometrial cancer occurs in the lining of the uterus, and is the fourth most-common malignancy in U.S. women, with an estimated 49,500 new cases and nearly 8,200 deaths annually.

The protein is known as L1-cell adhesion molecule, or L1-CAM, and is often found in solid tumors. According to data analyzed in the study, presented in a poster session during the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago, endometrial cancers overproduce this protein, which is located on the surface of cells. In fact, survival among those women whose cancers overproduced the protein was three times worse than those with lower amounts of the protein, Dellinger said.

“Because it’s on the surface of the cell, it’s an excellent target for novel therapeutic agents and may be very attractive for personalized medicine approaches,” Dellinger said.

Further, the protein is detectable with a blood test, meaning that it could have potential for screening and monitoring, both for diagnosis and to guide treatment decisions.

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