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A recent study shows promise for advanced and recurrent endometrial cancer, which is on the rise

VANCOUVER, WA. – March 3, 2023

A recent medical trial provides hope to women with an aggressive form of endometrial cancer, mainly affecting post-menopausal women. The Legacy Health Cancer Institute participated in a National Cancer Institute Trial, NRG-GY018, for women with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancers. An interim review of the trial data showed a statistically significant improvement in the time before cancer started growing again by adding pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy agent, to current chemotherapy. In other words, this new regimen-controlled cancer for much longer than the standard treatment. The finding was so significant that the trial reported data early so that all women with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer could benefit from this new combination. 

Gina Westhoff      Susan Martin

“Patients with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer face a poor prognosis with few treatment options, so the finding of this trial brings a lot of excitement and hope for our patients. Especially in the face of news that endometrial cancers are more common and more deadly than before,” says Dr. Gina Westhoff, a Legacy Health gynecologist/oncologist. A retired nurse, and Vancouver resident Susan Martin, was diagnosed with stage one endometrial cancer a year before her planned retirement.

Fortunately, her cancer hadn’t spread beyond her uterus. Her doctor recommended a total hysterectomy, and no chemotherapy was needed. Susan had the most common symptom – post-menopausal bleeding. “I almost hesitated but decided to call my family practice doctor,” says Susan. “She referred me to a gynecologist immediately for a biopsy (an endometrial tissue sampling).” Susan celebrated with a family vacation to hike in Hawaii, but several months later, she saw blood again, with abdominal pain. A cat scan revealed that her cancer had spread. Dr. Westhoff recommended chemotherapy to treat recurrent cancer and offered her a spot in the National Cancer Institute Trial, NRG-GY018. “The pain was gone less than two weeks into clinical trial treatment,” said Susan. 

Women should be aware of specific symptoms because survival rates are higher when detected early. “If women are experiencing irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding, postmenopausal bleeding, or persistent pelvic pain, that’s worrisome, and a doctor should see them,” says Dr. Westhoff. “I can’t stress enough that education and awareness about the symptoms of endometrial cancer are crucial to saving lives, particularly within marginalized communities of color. Women need to know early signs and symptoms and get treated early. Time can make a difference.”

“As part of our treatment plan at Legacy, we screen our patients to see if they are candidates for clinical trials to gain access to more treatment options and improve survival,” says Dr. Westhoff. According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, clinical trials performed over the last 40 years within the National Cancer Institute’s National Clinical Trials Network have prolonged the lives of patients with cancer by at least 14.2 million life years (Journal of Clinical Oncology December 2022). 

Dr. Westhoff says the results of the NRG Oncology NRG-GY018 study provide hope and survival to many women battling advanced endometrial cancers by offering more and better treatment options. She said the good thing about this trial was that there were few exclusions - it wasn’t specific to certain types of endometrial cancer. “Patients are living longer with their cancer under control, which is a huge win. The trial showed such positive findings and reported them quickly, which will benefit many others.”

Susan, a mother of two daughters and married for 43 years, didn’t hesitate to jump into the trial. “As a nurse, if I couldn’t help myself, maybe I could help someone else. I wasn’t fearful; this was the only way to advance medicine. Participating in the trial gave me more time to see my new grandson and my youngest daughter marry. Without it, I would have been dead by now.”