September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month! Gynecological cancers encompass all cancers of the female reproductive system, including the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vulva, and vagina. All women are at risk for these cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States, approximately 71,500 women are diagnosed with gynecological cancers. Each gynecological cancer has different signs and symptoms, as well as different risk factors. Risk increases with age.1
It is amazing and very encouraging to hear about all of the constant progress that is being made in fighting cancer! We have more options available now than in any other time in history—which means better outcomes for patients!
Did you know that your genes can determine how you will respond to many medications? It’s called pharmacogenomics (PGx), and it’s one of my areas of specialty as a board-certified oncology pharmacist who also owns a business doing consulting in PGx.
Each of us is unique! Did you know that the genetic material for humans is >99% similar from person-to-person? It’s these <1% differences which account for the beautiful diversity we observe among us. There is a subgroup of genes called “pharmacogenes” that are the “drug genes” which have been identified that affect our bodies process many medications.
In addition to standard treatment approaches with both radiation therapy and surgery, there are also many medications used by patients fighting endometrial cancer. Many of these treatments are affected by their genetic features. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and supportive therapy can all potentially be affected by unique changes in your DNA.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. The way the chemotherapy is given, and the actual types of drugs chosen depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated in each patient.2 Genes have been identified which correlate with both drug effectiveness as well as drug side effects.
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Some hormones can cause cancer to grow, so by blocking them, we can treat the cancer.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells. There are several different classes of drugs that fall into this category of endometrial cancer treatment– monoclonal antibodies, mTOR inhibitors and signal transduction inhibitors are three types that are routinely used.
In addition to the cancer treatments above, many supportive therapies used to help endometrial cancer patients along their journey can be affected by changes in a patient’s DNA. Commonly used medications, such as pain medication, sleep aids, antidepressants, anxiety medicine, nausea medicine, as well as many medicines used to treat other coexisting chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems can also be greatly affected by your genetic features!
In addition to all these amazing treatment options, new options are always being studied in clinical trials! We are in an era of personalized medicine, and it is a giant step forward for patients! Patients have every reason to be hopeful and encouraged in their journey!
This is a major reason that I’m thrilled and honored to share that I was recently asked to serve on the board of directors for the newly-formed Endometrial Cancer Foundation, which is being founded and directed by Dr. Anne Arvizu, a fellow pharmacist, an endometrial cancer survivor and patient advocate! I share her passion for educating, supporting, and empowering women as they are in the fight of their lives! Look for more information about this exciting Foundation, our soon-to-be-released website, and our podcast to come soon!
For more information about Gynecologic cancers, see the links below.1,2 For more information about PGx, including YouTube videos, other blog posts about PGx, and many more resources, you can visit my website.3