Approximately 417,367 women were diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2020, making it the most common gynecological cancer in the global West. Alarmingly, these numbers have been increasing year on year; projections suggest that in British Columbia, in the following 10 years, there will be a 50 per cent surge in incidence and a doubled increase in mortality. However, most people don’t know about this, which is why endometrial and uterine cancer have been colloquially referred to as the most common gynecologic cancer you don’t know about. 

Prevention, screening for early diagnosis, and risk factors and symptom awareness are important factors to mitigate the effects of the disease in aging women. 

Amidst this landscape of medical complexity, Dr. Aline Talhouk at the UBC Vancouver campus stands at the forefront of uterine research. Dr. Talhouk and her team at the Uterine Health Research Lab have dedicated their career to predicting cancer risk and identifying approaches to personalize interventions to prevent, screen, and diagnose this disease and transform the landscape of female reproductive oncology research.

When speaking with Dr. Talhouk, we acknowledged that students are not usually concerned with issues like uterine cancer prevention but could very well be affected by it. Anyone with a uterus could be susceptible to the growing trend of endometrial cancer, which accounts for 90 per cent of uterine cancers. This highlights the importance of becoming involved in understanding the pathology that could claim many more lives. 

The Uterine Health Research Lab recently started working on a study called RESToRE that aims to understand the different risk factors of endometrial cancer in the post-menopausal female population.

The study starts with a short 15-minute questionnaire that calculates your risk score for endometrial cancer using a predictive model based on current knowledge of the disease's risk factors. If eligible, you can continue into the second phase of the study, which consists of a hormonal-based screening that can identify hormonal irregularities suggestive of the presence of abnormal or precancerous cells. If these screening tests reveal concerning results, research participants are referred to a gynecologist who can evaluate an appropriate course of action.

Regardless of the results from the second stage, all subjects are welcome into the third stage of the study: a personalized risk reduction plan. This plan consists of a six-week diet and exercise program that can help individuals restructure their habits in a way that reduces their chances of ever developing endometrial cancer. Through this program, the importance of personalized medicine can be stressed in preventing diseases like uterine cancer. Dr. Talhouk pointed out to me that it is particularly important to empower women and uterus-havers to understand the different ways that they can take care of their bodies and to know the warning signs of reproductive cancers.

This study kills — or rather helps — two birds with one stone. It allows Dr. Talhouk and her team to understand the relationship between risk factors such as obesity and diabetes by data analysis of a susceptible population, and it also enables individuals to carry out screenings that might detect early signs of cancer.

Signing up for the study allows researchers to monitor the participants over time, which gives them long-term information about the accuracy of their model and whether healthy individuals may develop warning signs as they age.

The RESToRE study is a great example of how developments in data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will help create more accurate prediction models and allow researchers to better understand the subtleties of the causes of such complex diseases. 

Assessing predictive models will enhance algorithms aimed at identifying population trends, thereby improving our ability to distinguish those at risk from those who are not. Dr. Talhouk emphasized the necessity of recruiting a diverse array of participants from various geographical locations to ensure an accurate representation of data.

Furthermore, Dr. Talhouk explained that these algorithms are being used more than ever in health care and are at the forefront of the “push” for personalized and preventive medicine. She mentioned the importance of encouraging an empowering approach towards caring for one’s health. Rather than being reactive and attending to one’s health when symptoms have manifested, the key thing is to be proactive. You shouldn’t be paranoid; however, it is important to stay vigilant and informed about the particular predispositions that you might have to develop a condition like endometrial cancer. 

Even if you are not eligible to participate in the study, Dr. Talhouk mentioned that they have a newsletter that includes information about all of the different projects that they are working on at the Uterine Health Research Lab. Every year, they release results from all of their studies to better educate interested readers on the growing knowledge of gynecological research. 

The RESToRE study highlights the indispensable role of education and awareness in preventive medicine. 

"Women's health research has often lagged behind, particularly in the post-menopausal stage, a phase marked by heightened vulnerability. It's time to reshape the dialogue surrounding women’s reproductive health," said Dr. Talhouk. 

If you wish to contact the Uterine Health Research lab or sign up for their newsletter, you can do so by visiting their website.