Focus on Cervical Health

Half of the world’s population has a cervix, but research for this organ is vastly underfunded, despite cervical cancer being a major killer among women and its significant role in childbirth. This year alone, we can expect 13,000 new cases of the cancer in the U.S. Meanwhile, it’s projected 4,200 women will die from the disease. That’s from the American Cancer Society, whose 2018 predictions are nearly identical to 2017’s.

It’s numbers like these—and the simple fact that so few are focusing on the organ—that are driving researchers at Magee-Womens Research Institute, where scientists are going beyond the standard best practices to ensure that women can secure better cervical health.

A Fighting Chance

One of the leading causes of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). This sexually-transmitted disease often lies dormant for years at a time, allowing it to spread unnoticed. Because of this, the CDC estimates there are 79 million people in the U.S. with the virus today, and 14 million people contract it each year. Among women, however, it can be especially deadly. To help in the fight against HPV (and therefore cervical cancer), MWRI has tested the Quadrivalent vaccine, a vaccine with wide coverage proven to dramatically reduce the transmission of HPV.

MWRI is always exploring new methods to increase cervical cancer treatment success rates, both at Magee and elsewhere. A study by Dr. Jeff Lin, a fellow in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, found cervical cancer patients are less likely to die from the disease if they receive treatment at a high-volume facility like Magee.

It’s all thanks to having multiple specialists nearby to recommend detailed, advanced treatment methods. Patients treated at high-volume facilities were significantly more likely to receive cutting-edge treatments, making them 82% more likely to receive internal radiation therapy and 30% more likely to receive chemotherapy. On average, these same patients lived 13.7 months longer.

Ongoing Research

Fighting cervical cancer with new drugs requires a deep understanding of the cervix itself. To that end, MWRI researchers like Dr. Lisa Rohan have dedicated themselves to studying the chemical, physical, and biological properties of cervical tissues and fluids, especially when it comes to understanding the organ’s interaction with new products or treatments, like new delivery systems for chemotherapeutic agents.

But cervical issues aren’t limited to cancer. Dr. Hyagriv Simhan is focused on overcoming short cervical lengths among pregnant women. Research has shown a shorter cervix translates into higher risk for premature delivery. As a result, Dr. Simhan has explored ways to overcome this issue, especially via the hormone progesterone or a pessary—a device wrapped around the cervix inside the vagina to change the angle of the cervix.

Both treatment methods extend pregnancy to term: Progesterone is administered until week 37, and a pessary is removed right before birth. What is unclear is why these treatments work, and it’s a question Dr. Simhan and his colleagues are exploring. “These are clinical trial data, and we have theoretical reasons why they work, but we don’t technically know why.” With time, these researchers hope to uncover an understanding that may lead to improved treatment methods.

Drive Progress

Despite the relative lack of dialogue surrounding the cervix, Magee presses on. Because MWRI is partially donor-funded, donations help drive our groundbreaking research in fighting cervical cancer and other diseases. You can continue MWRI’s progress by donating today! Every bit helps, no matter how small.