As I noted 10 weeks ago, cancer statistics are both staggering and disappointing. Although cancer deaths per 100,000 people have been on the downswing since 1991 thanks to access to more effective medications and better awareness about the negative health effects of smoking, there is still a lot of research and progress yet to achieve. My focus in this 12-week series is to bring to light both the need for continued research in these fields, as well as highlight ways you can profit from the biggest current and upcoming players in each area.
Today, we’ll turn our attention to the projected 10th-most diagnosed cancer: endometrial cancer.
The skinny of endometrial cancer
Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer and is most often found in the endometrium, or lining of the uterine walls. This year, just shy of 50,000 cases of endometrial cancer are expected to be diagnosed, with nearly 8,200 women expected to pass away as a direct cause of this disease.
Although there are no early detection tests to help diagnose endometrial cancer, many cases (68% to be exact) are diagnosed in the early stage of the disease thanks to fairly easily identifiable symptoms including post-menopausal bleeding, as well as pain during urination, intercourse, or in the pelvic area, according to the American Cancer Society (link opens PDF file).
But just because there are easily identifiable factors that help women recognize the need to go and see their doctor, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a laundry list of potential risk factors. In fact, obesity (specifically in the abdominal area), diabetes, estrogen exposure, never having children, and medical conditions such as Lynch Syndrome are all factors that increase a woman’s risk of getting endometrial cancer. Not to mention that women who took breast cancer therapy Tamoxifen, which was developed by AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN), have also been shown to run a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer, since it delivers an estrogen-like effect on the uterus, which can encourage tumor growth.
What’s even scarier is that five-year survival rates have actually declined since 1975-1977 from 88% to just 83% in 2002-2008. Furthermore, endometrial cancer has been on the rise in African American women, increasing at a rate of 2.2% per year between 2005 and 2009.
There also exists a stark difference in five-year survival rates between white women (85%) and African-American women (63%), as noted by the ACS.
Where investment dollars are headed
Now that you have a better understanding of what endometrial cancer is, what its risk factors are, and who it’s affecting, let’s look at some of the ways physicians go about treating the disease.
Commonly, endometrial cancer will involve surgery, radiation, or perhaps hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy, depending on the stage of the disease. Despite the numerous treatment options, the investments in advancing chemotherapy agents to treat endometrial cancer simply haven’t been there over the past three decades. Here’s a closer look at the most common treatments.
Cisplatin + Paclitaxel: I know this is brutally unexciting from a treatment and investment standpoint, but the global treatment of cisplatin and paclitaxel is still one of the standards in treating late-stage disease where surgery is not an option. More interestingly, a study presented at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s annual meeting last year revealed that the pairing of cisplatin with paclitaxel over a four-year study period proved just as effective and delivered far fewer side effects than a control arm of patients receiving the doublet and doxorubicin as well.
Depo-Provera: While not necessarily a “treatment” in the sense of the term, this contraceptive injection developed by Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) has been shown to reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer by nearly 80%, according to a study by the World Health Organization, since it contains no estrogen. That’s a significant figure, and certainly worth mentioning.