Research Turning the Tide in the Effort to End Cervical Cancer

Ritu SalaniAbout 13,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018, and a little more than 4,000 will die of this disease, according to the American Cancer Society. While each of these numbers is down dramatically compared to statistics from 50 years ago, they are “still too high,” according to Ritu Salani, MD, an associate professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the OSUCCC – James.

Salani is determined to reduce the number of cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths even further through education, vaccination and research. She recently completed the first phase of a clinical trial that shows great promise in treating women whose cervical cancer has returned and who would otherwise have very poor prognoses.

Prevention and early diagnosis are important because approximately 35 percent of the women diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer will develop “a recurrent or persistent disease,” Salani says. “The prognosis is they’ll only have 18 months to 24 months.”

Research is another key to beating cervical cancer. Salani and the OSUCCC – James are part of a recently completed phase I clinical trial that utilized a more targeted treatment for patients who experience a recurrence. “Chemotherapy has been the recommended treatment, but there’s limited success as the cancer often finds a way to grow,” Salani said.

To help the chemotherapy do its job more effectively, this new clinical trial also treated patients with a PARP inhibitor. PARP is an enzyme found in cells that has many functions, including the repair of DNA damage. By inhibiting—or blocking—the PARP in the cervical cancer cells from doing its job, “The cancer cells can’t repair themselves, and they will die,” Salani says.

This clinical trial was a national effort organized by the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) Foundation, an independent and international nonprofit organization, of which Salani is a member.

“We had 29 patients with evaluable disease on the study, and we had a 75 percent clinical benefit rate, which exceeds the current standards,” Salani says.

The next step is to find funding for a larger, phase II clinical trial. Salani is optimistic that the incidence and death rate from cervical cancer will continue to decline. Reaching this goal motivates her.

“What drives me is my patients and their families—that’s why I do this,” she says. “We’re making an impact on this disease, and we’re on the cusp of some big breakthroughs.”

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