Health & Wellness
Thousands of Americans will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, most of which will likely be between 35 and 44 years old, according to American Cancer Society estimates. Advances in cervical cancer care are prolonging survivorship for these young women — daughters, sisters, wives, aunts, and mothers — with much more of their lives to live, says Nolan J. Kinne, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.
For January’s Cervical Health Awareness Month, Kinne outlines three top care advancements that can improve outcomes for patients with cervical cancer.
“Having viable options that we can offer patients to feel better and extend their life in a meaningful way is a very powerful aspect of my work,” he says.
In recent years, Kinne says cancer experts have adjusted their surgical approaches to radical hysterectomy — an operation to treat early-stage cervical cancer — based on new evidence. Results from a large clinical trial showed that women with early-stage cervical cancer who underwent traditional open surgery experienced better outcomes than those who underwent minimally invasive surgery. Women who’d undergone minimally invasive surgery, including robotic surgery, were more likely to have their cancer come back or recur than those who had open surgery and were less likely to be alive three years after their surgery.
In other words, while the minimally invasive approach eases patients' recovery process, Kinne says open surgery offers the advantages of less likely recurrence and prolonged overall survival.
“In the rest of the surgical field, we generally see trends toward minimally invasive approaches, whereas, with the cervix, we are headed in the reverse direction based on proof that this method is more effective in treating cancer,” he says.
While cervical cancer that has progressed to an advanced stage is no longer curable and cannot be surgically removed, Kinne says other treatment options are extending patients’ lives. New classes of medicines called immunotherapy are emerging and opening new doors for patients. In recent years, immunotherapy drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors (PD-1 inhibitors) have helped treat many types of advanced cancer, including cervical.
These medicines can pair with chemotherapy to combat cervical cancer that is not shrinking with current treatment, has recurred, or has spread to distant sites. Patients may also opt for immunotherapy alone if their cervical cancer has recurred or spread during or after chemotherapy treatment.
Another emerging class of medicine called antibody-drug conjugates is showing promising results in treating women with cervical cancer. A recent clinical trial has shown the effects of one such drug called tisotumab vedotin-tftv in helping women with recurrent cancers (cancer that has come back despite treatment). Kinne says the tisotumab vedotin-tftv attaches to cervical cancer cells and, once inside the cell, releases chemotherapy’s toxic effects to kill the cancerous cell. The medication has raised the response rate — the proportion of patients who have a partial or complete response to therapy — from 20% with traditional treatments to 40% on tisotumab vedotin-tftv.
Kinne says patients with recurrent cervical cancer didn't have any good options in the past, but this medicine provides a potential option for second-line therapy.
“Cervical cancer, especially at advanced stages, is a challenging disease to treat and manage,” Kinne says. “We are continuing to work on improving cervical cancer care to prolong and improve patients’ lives, but in reality, we have the means to avoid this situation altogether as a population.”
Prevention and early detection are vital, says Kinne — the best way to overcome and cure cervical cancer. With the prevention and screening tools at our disposal, women could avoid advanced cervical cancer entirely.
Experts at Loma Linda University Cancer Center are committed to providing compassionate, comprehensive, and personalized care throughout your journey. Learn more about cervical cancer screening and treatment options online or call 800-782-2623.