Uterine Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about scientific research being done to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about uterine cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • New therapies (updated 01/2019). The most notable development in the treatment of endometrial cancer, and many other types of cancer, is doctors’ increasing understanding of tumor genomics. This area of science seeks to identify mutations in the tumor’s genes that might “drive” or cause the tumor to grow. Testing can be done on your tumor sample to look for these mutations, and the results will help decide whether your treatment options include a type of treatment called targeted therapy, which may include clinical trials.

    In endometrial cancer, mutations in a pathway called PI3K/AKT/MTOR are commonly found. Patients with recurrent uterine cancer may benefit from using a drug that targets this pathway, such as everolimus (Afinitor). Other drugs that target this pathway are available. A study from 2014 showed that combining everolimus with the chemotherapy letrozole (Femara) slowed the growth of the disease in women with recurrent endometrial cancer. The MTOR inhibitor, temsirolimus (Torisel), is a targeted therapy approved to treat renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. Clinical trials are investigating its use to treat recurrent, metastatic, or high-risk uterine cancer. 

    Another type of targeted therapy that has shown some results for patients with endometrial cancer are called angiogenesis inhibitors. For example, bevacizumab (Avastin) targets blood vessel growth that feeds tumors.

    Uterine serous carcinoma is a rare but aggressive type of endometrial cancer. About 30% of these tumors express the HER2 gene. In a phase II clinical trial, researchers found that trastuzumab (Herceptin) combined with a combination of chemotherapy was effective in treating these kinds of tumors. Trastuzumab is a HER2 targeted therapy mostly used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer. In the women in this study, trastuzumab stopped the progression of the disease for a median of 12.6 months compared to 8.0 months for those who received only standard chemotherapy. The median is the midpoint, meaning that half of the patients had their disease stopped for less than the median and half had their disease stopped for more than the median.

    Other research includes immunotherapy, which are treatments designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. There is interest in a specific area of immunotherapy called “checkpoint inhibitors,” such as PD-1 or CTLA4 targeted immunotherapies. Examples of immunotherapies are nivolumab (Opdivo) or ipilimumab (Yervoy). They help activate the immune system and can cause tumors to shrink. Some of these immunotherapies work better in combination with other treatment types. There are ongoing clinical trials examining different drugs and various combinations in uterine cancer. There is early evidence that uterine cancers with mismatch repair defects (see Introduction) are much more sensitive to immunotherapy, and this is being studied.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current endometrial cancer treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Patients are strongly encouraged to talk with the doctor about clinical trials when decisions are being made about their treatment options.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding uterine cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

  • Visit the website of the Conquer Cancer Foundation to find out how to help support cancer research. Please note that this link takes you to a separate ASCO website.

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.