If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with endometrial (uterine) cancer, you’ve probably spent a significant amount of time researching the malignancy and how it can be treated. Although treatment varies from one patient to another, traditional methods have included surgical procedures—minimally invasive technique for hysterectomies, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomies, lymph node evaluation—as well as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
But did you know that there’s a relatively new form of treatment available that can potentially be used to treat endometrial cancer? It’s known as "immunotherapy," and it involves harnessing certain parts of a patient’s own immune system to fight the malignancy.
What is immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is an innovative treatment method that shows the potential for being able to treat various types of cancer. Although immunotherapy can be used in a number of different ways, it generally involves providing additional support to a patient’s immune system so that the immune system has the resources it needs to recognize and destroy the cancer at issue. Some forms of immunotherapy are designed to strengthen a patient’s immune system in general, while others are intended to train the immune system to fight off cancer cells specifically.
What are immune checkpoint inhibitors?
To understand what an immune checkpoint inhibitor does, it helps to have some background knowledge about the immune system’s checkpoints and how certain types of cancer can evade these mechanisms. When a person’s immune system is functioning as intended, its checkpoints are able to tell the difference between healthy cells and dangerous foreign cells. Once this distinction is made, the immune system will attack the foreign cells and leave the healthy cells alone.
However, some types of cancer produce proteins that help them avoid detection by the checkpoints, thereby allowing them to continue spreading throughout the body. Immune checkpoint inhibitors—which are a form of immunotherapy - are drugs that block the cancer proteins from interacting with the immune system, thereby enabling the immune system to continue functioning as intended. Unlike other forms of cancer treatment that involve directly attacking the tumor, immune checkpoint inhibitors focus on strengthening the immune system so that it’s better equipped to defend against cancer.
Notably, research shows that immune checkpoint inhibitors can be used to treat cancers associated with a mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, a genetic abnormality that prevents cells from fixing mistakes that arise when DNA copies itself. Because approximately one-third of endometrial tumors are MMR-deficient, this suggests that immune checkpoint inhibitors could potentially serve as an effective treatment method for endometrial cancer.
Options offered at Moffitt Cancer Center
At Moffitt Cancer Center, we’re proud to be at the forefront of endometrial cancer treatment. Our team is constantly looking for ways to more effectively treat this malignancy, and that includes exploring the potential benefits offered by immunotherapy. The skilled professionals in our Gynecologic Oncology Program are actively participating in immunotherapy trials involving not only immune checkpoint inhibitors, but also vaccine therapy and cellular therapy.
Medically reviewed by Hye Sook Chon, MD, gynecologic oncologist, Gynecologic Oncology Program
If you’d like to know more about how immunotherapy and checkpoint inhibitors can potentially be used to treat endometrial cancer, or about our ongoing trials, reach out to Moffitt Cancer Center today. You can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing a new patient registration form online.