Women’s reproductive cancers (such as ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, and cervical cancer) are massively underfunded given their deadly toll on society, and as a result remain very challenging to treat. Over 100,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with reproductive cancers each year, and over 32,000 women die annually from these cancers. The NYSCF Women’s Reproductive Cancer Initiative aims to shift paradigms in the way these cancers are studied and treated, in collaboration with leading cancer experts across the globe.
Our work begins with ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest types. Five years after diagnosis, ovarian cancer survival rates are just 47% – a number that has not changed in the past 25 years. This is partly due to the high frequency of patient relapses (over 75%) with cancers exhibiting drug resistance, making these cancers extremely difficult to treat effectively. Ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed at very late stages because of the vague symptoms and lack of effective screening strategies.
Women’s Reproductive Cancer Research at NYSCF
A major limiting factor in understanding and treating ovarian cancer is the lack of experimental models that recapitulate the particularities of each patient’s cancer. Moreover, cancer samples taken from patients have a finite lifetime which restricts what researchers can learn about each patient’s disease. At NYSCF, we are taking samples of patient tumors and using them to generate self-renewing stem cells and 3D aggregates of tissue (called “organoids”) that recapitulate how different cells within each patient’s tumor interact. Our world-leading expertise in stem cell technology positions us to create these new, more effective, personalized models of cancer.
Stem cells and organoids provide an infinite lifespan during which we can study tumor cell behavior, test drugs, and identify optimal treatment courses for specific patients. They also help recreate early stages of the disease, allowing us to identify markers for early detection and examine how individual genetic risk factors influence each patient’s experience of ovarian cancer. Our goal at NYSCF is to build a living biobank of cancer samples as a resource to advance the field.
In addition to the major unmet medical need for more advanced and innovative research solutions for these cancers, increased awareness of these issues is crucial for improving diagnosis, survival rates, and treatment effectiveness. NYSCF regularly holds scientific and patient-focused events that educate the public about these issues and present the latest advancements in women’s cancer research.
Scientific Advisory Board
The Initiative is guided by a Scientific Advisory Board of world-leading experts. Current members include:
Ovarian cancer causes are not well established, but we do know that certain risk factors make a woman more likely to develop the disease. For example, several genetic mutations (inherited or acquired over time) can contribute to its onset; we know the cancer starts in cells at the tail ends of the fallopian tubes rather than in the ovary itself; and cancer development? may be related to ovulation.
What are the risk factors for developing ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer risk factors include:
Genetic mutations in genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2, PTEN, PALB2, and RAD51
Aging (the risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring after menopause)
Taking hormone therapy after menopause
Having family history of ovarian cancer
Having a history of breast cancer
Smoking and alcohol use
What are the stages of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer stages range from 1-4, with higher numbers indicating more advanced stages. Ovarian cancer treatments often depend on the stage of the disease, and each stage is defined by the size of the tumor, its spread to nearby lymph nodes, and its spread to more distant sites.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms may include the following: