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Combined endometrial cancer treatment doesn't boost survival

A retirement-aged woman gazes calmly out the window.

July 9, 2019—For women with advanced endometrial cancer, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy after surgery is the standard of care. But the surprising results of a new study suggest that there may be a better way.

The study found that chemo alone:

  • Worked just as well as the radiation-chemo combo therapy.
  • Caused fewer side effects that could potentially disrupt treatment.

An unexpected result

The study divided more than 730 women with locally advanced endometrial cancer into two groups. After they had surgery, both groups received additional treatments intended to help keep their cancers from returning. Roughly half of the women had radiation plus chemo for 21 weeks. The other had chemo alone for 17 weeks.

Researchers followed the women for six months. Here's what they found: In both treatment groups, the number of women who were still alive and cancer-free was almost the same.

The results surprised the researchers because they had expected to show that combo therapy (the standard approach) is better than chemo alone.

More side effects with no clear advantage?

Both chemo and radiation can cause side effects. But when they are given at the same time, the radiation side effects sometimes make it impossible for women to continue their treatment. In fact, that's what happened to more than 25% of the women in the combination therapy group.

The researchers didn't entirely rule out the need for radiation plus chemo, though. Their study suggests it may still be needed when there is a high risk of cancer recurrence in the pelvic region.

A common gynecologic cancer

Endometrial cancer, which starts in the uterus, is the most common gynecologic cancer. It usually happens after age 55. It often can be treated successfully with surgery alone when found early. A potential warning sign is postmenopausal bleeding. But more women have been getting and dying from the disease. One reason may be higher obesity rates seen in recent decades.

The study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Researching treatments options online

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about treating endometrial cancer.

You can also read this story for help researching treatment options.

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