Landmark evidence suggests estrogen may be one of the causative agents in cervical cancer, according to a research team at the Health Science Center. The results, published in the Dec. 1 issue of Cancer Research, raise the possibility that estrogen inhibitors could be used as a potential line of therapy to treat cervical cancer.
“Our findings show that like breast tumors, cervical tumors are capable of making estrogen,” said principle investigator Rajeshwar Rao Tekmal, Ph.D., who holds the Carl J. Pauerstein Professorship in Reproductive Research at the Health Science Center.
Dr. Tekmal and his research team study the link between human papilloma virus (HPV)-mediated cervical cancer and other agents that fuel the progression of viral-initiated pre-cancerous changes. HPV accounts for approximately 99 percent of cervical cancer cases and is transmitted sexually. Although men can carry the virus, women are most likely to be affected by it. As of now, a regular Pap test is the best method of detecting and treating HPV.
“HPV is very prevalent in all countries, but especially in those with a lower-economic status. Lack of money and facilities prevent women from having regular Pap tests,” Dr. Tekmal said. “However, not everyone infected with the virus will develop cervical cancer, indicating that other factors are involved along with HPV to induce the cancer.”
Knowing from previous studies that hormones might play a role in the progression of cancer, the researchers screened two groups of women: a group who had normal Pap tests and another group whose abnormal Pap tests indicated signs of HPV and cancer.
“We found evidence that 35 percent of the cervical tumors tested are capable of making estrogen,” Dr. Tekmal said. “Once an individual is infected with HPV, the viral DNA enters the cell DNA and becomes a part of it. During this process, some viral genes can cause chemical changes in the body that can lead to cervical cancer.”
Although Dr. Tekmal’s research is only in its preliminary stages, the results of this study have formed the foundation for further studies. Just as breast cancer can be treated by estrogen inhibitors, the results of Dr. Tekmal’s study indicate estrogen inhibitors may also be used as a therapy to treat cervical cancers that are hormone-dependent.
“Our study is in its earliest stages, but we plan to advance it by studying more patients and by further observing the links between estrogen and cervical cancer,” Dr. Tekmal said. “Our definitive goal is to determine the prognostic importance of the local estrogen production in cervical tumors, and design and test therapeutic approaches to stop local estrogen production. Ultimately, we want to limit the number of deaths from cervical cancer and with this novel finding, we are one step closer.”
Dr. Tekmal said Bexar County continues to be among the country’s leading regions for cervical cancer incidence due to the population mix and economic status of some individuals that may not have regular Pap tests.