What's New in Cervical Cancer Research and Treatment?
New ways to prevent and treat cancer of the cervix are being researched. Some of the promising new developments include the following:
Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SNLB)
During surgery for cervical cancer, lymph nodes in the pelvis may be removed to check for cancer spread. Instead of removing many lymph nodes, a technique called sentinel lymph node biopsy can be used to target just the few lymph nodes most likely to contain cancer. In this technique a blue dye containing a radioactive tracer is injected into the cancer and allowed to drain into lymph nodes. Then, during surgery, the lymph nodes that contain radiation and the blue dye can be identified and removed. These are the lymph nodes most likely to contain cancer if it has spread. If these lymph nodes don’t contain cancer, the other lymph nodes don’t need to be removed. Removing fewer lymph nodes may lower the risk of later problems, such as lymphedema of the legs.
A clinical trial is looking at a different way of doing a sentinel node biopsy procedure. It maps the lymph nodes using with robotic (laparoscopic) assisted near infrared imaging after injecting indocyanine green (ICG) dye into the cervix.
SLNB is not a standard procedure for cervical cancer at this time. Available studies suggest that SLNB may be helpful in early-stage cervical cancer, but more studies are planned to see if this procedure should routinely become part of the treatment.
In cancer, the immune system cannot control the fast growth of tumor cells. Recently, new drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors have been developed that “reset” the immune system. They have been found to be active in treating a number of types of cancer. Their helpfulness in cervical cancer treatment is not yet known, but clinical trials are underway to find out more. See Cancer Immunotherapy for more information on this type of treatment.
Vaccines have been developed to prevent infection with some of the HPV types that cause associated with cervical cancer. Currently available vaccines are intended to produce immunity to HPV types that cause about 90% of cervical cancers. Studies are being done to see how well these vaccines will reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Vaccines are also being developed to prevent infection with some of the other HPV types that also cause cancer. Studies are being done to see how well these vaccines will reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Some experimental vaccines are also being studied for women with established HPV infections, to help their immune systems destroy the virus and cure the infection before a cancer develops.
Still other vaccines are meant to help women who already have advanced cervical cancer. These vaccines attempt to produce an immune reaction to the parts of the virus (E6 and E7 proteins) that make the cervical cancer cells grow abnormally. It is hoped that this immunity will kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing. One such study in advanced cervical cancer showed tumor shrinkage with a vaccine against the E7 protein.
As researchers have learned more about the gene changes in cells that cause cancer, they have been able to develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes. These targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs. They often have different (and less severe) side effects. These drugs may be used alone or with more traditional chemotherapy.
Pazopanib is a type of targeted drug that blocks certain growth factors that help cancer cells grow. It has shown to be helpful in some early studies of patients with advanced cervical cancer. This drug continues to be studied.
Some research indicates that adding hyperthermia to radiation may help keep the cancer from coming back and help patients live longer. Hyperthermia is a treatment that raises the temperature in the area where the tumor is, most often by using radiofrequency antennae placed around the patient.
Last Medical Review: November 16, 2016 Last Revised: December 5, 2016