Driven by HPV, the disease is usually slow-growing and asymptomatic in its earliest stages. Screening with regular Pap or HPV tests can detect it early. HPV is an extremely common virus that is transmitted through direct sexual contact. It drives most cervical cancers, as well as many anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile and a growing percentage of head and neck cancers.
Thanks to screening advances, cervical cancer mortality rates in the U.S. have dropped significantly. HPV infections — and cervical cancers — are also in decline in the U.S., due to use of the HPV vaccine. Yet cervical cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer death among women in low-resource countries.
Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new cutting-edge therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies on various kinds of cervical cancer.
HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor-2) is found in all human cells and is healthy in normal amounts. It controls cell growth and repair. Checking the level of HER2 present may help plan treatment.
Advanced cervical cancer means the cancer has spread from the cervix to another area of the body such as the lungs. Sometimes cancer is advanced when it is first diagnosed.
Researchers at Fred Hutch played an integral role in identifying the link between HPV and cervical cancers and developing lifesaving HPV vaccines. Children aged 11-12 are targeted for the vaccines because the vaccines are most effective if given before a person is exposed to the virus. The vaccine can also be given to young women up to age 26 and young men through age 21.
Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Fred Hutch’s Dr. Denise Galloway and her research colleagues here and the University of Washington were key players in identifying the relationship between HPV and cervical cancer and in laying the groundwork for the development of the HPV vaccine. An extremely effective prevention strategy, this vaccine stops most of the infection’s cancer-causing strains.
Since most women exposed to HPV do not develop cervical cancer, other factors — such as cigarette smoking and immunosuppression — likely contribute to its development. Fred Hutch researchers continue to explore how lifestyles and behaviors work in concert with HPV to drive these cancers, and to develop ways to reduce risk.
Our scientists are also exploring genetic mutations that may contribute to the development (or prevention) of cervical cancer and examining how genes and lifestyle factors work together in the development of the disease.
Our researchers are looking at whether the HPV vaccine may also be used to treat, not just prevent, precancers driven by this virus. They are also working to determine the lowest number of effective doses of the vaccine in order to reduce costs and thereby reduce barriers to widespread vaccination.
Although cervical cancer’s mortality rate has dropped significantly thanks to prevention and early detection, these benefits don’t apply to all populations. Our researchers are working to reduce health disparities locally in underserved groups and globally in countries where cervical cancer remains a leading cause of death.
Building on the success of PROSPR I, PROSPR II investigators from a variety of disciplines and institutions are conducting research to improve the screening of cervical, colorectal, and lung cancers.
Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute
Contact: Marty Stiller, email@example.com