QIMR Berghofer-led research has identified genes that appear to increase a person’s risk of endometrial cancer, in findings which could help the discovery of new treatments and therapies.
The researchers say there is a need for more treatment options as the disease becomes increasingly prevalent, with more than 3000 new endometrial cancer cases and 550 deaths in Australia each year.
The study, led by QIMR Berghofer Associate Professors Tracy O’Mara and Dylan Glubb, analysed summary data on more than 100,000 individuals from the Endometrial Cancer Association Consortium – the world’s largest genetic study of endometrial cancer.
The researchers used statistical methods to identify eight genes that appear to make people more susceptible to endometrial cancer.
“In addition to identifying genes that appear to affect endometrial cancer risk, we also identified the actual tissues that some of these genes may act in,” Associate Professor O’Mara said.
“This is quite exciting, as this information can give us an important insight into the underlying biology of endometrial cancer and its development.
“Endometrial cancer rates are rising in many countries so it’s expected to be an ongoing and increasing problem, yet it is still under-researched compared to other cancers. This study represents a significant step forward in increasing our understanding of the gynaecological cancer, and developing more treatment options.”
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved just three drugs for endometrial cancer treatment since 1971, and the best treatment can be a hysterectomy – an invasive surgery that isn’t appropriate for all patients.
Associate Professor Glubb said they had already used their results to identify potential new therapies, including a drug that is currently undergoing clinical trials for use in other cancers.
“Now we have identified potential risk genes, we can search for drugs that target the products of those genes or counteract the changes in gene expression linked to endometrial cancer susceptibility,” he said.
“We’ve already found one candidate which is currently in phase three clinical trials for brain cancer and lymphoma. It hasn’t been studied for endometrial cancer but our data suggests it could be promising.”
The QIMR Berghofer researchers have been working with a company that uses artificial intelligence to find drugs which target the products of specific genes.
Their study, published in the journal Communications Biology, also involved researchers from the Queensland University of Technology, the Mayo Clinic in the United States, Belgium’s Laboratory for Translational Genetics and Germany’s Hannover Medical School.
It was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council project grant.
Endometrial cancer is cancer of the lining of the womb or uterus. It is the most common type of gynaecological cancer in high-income countries like Australia. Each year, there are more than 3,000 new cases and 550 deaths from endometrial cancer across the country.
Rates of endometrial cancer are increasing and more women are being diagnosed with this cancer every year. This is probably due in part to the increasing prevalence of obesity in the population. Although survival rates for endometrial cancer are very good overall – the chance of a woman surviving for at least five years after her diagnosis is 83 per cent – the numbers of women dying of endometrial cancer are increasing. By comparison, Australia’s five-year survival rate for breast cancer in women is 91 per cent.