January 23, 2023

One size does not fit all in cervical cancer treatment

Learn more about researcher Geetha Menon’s quest for personalized therapies

Cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. Despite being a preventable and curable disease, this cancer is responsible for a large burden of suffering in women worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization, 99 percent of cervical cancer cases are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV)—an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact and the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract.

Physicist, researcher and Women and Children’s Health Research Institute member Geetha Menon is exploring treatments for cervical cancer, including using machine learning to more easily create personalized radiation therapy to improve the health outcomes for women with this disease. 

What does your research examine?

I’m involved mostly with projects in cervical cancer radiation therapy. Our studies involve work that uses cervical cancer cell lines to find the best radiation treatment regimen. We also work towards determining better radiation delivery techniques for personalizing the treatment, as well as identify opportunities for enhancing education in brachytherapy which is a crucial component for the cure of locally advanced cervical cancer

What’s the best way to minimize the risk of cervical cancer?

Get the HPV vaccinewhich can be given as early as age nine to males and femalesand have regular screening! Cervical cancer screening typically starts at age 30 and is repeated periodically.

Why is personalized cervical cancer treatment important?

Cervical cancer treatment has improved so much over the years—we have better treatment machines and better brachytherapy applicators to focus radiation on the target area.

We know that even if a patient’s cancer is in the same stage with similar characteristics, they may not respond to treatment the same way.

Our hope is to personalize brachytherapy treatments so that we can evolve from that “one size fits all” kind of approach by truly customizing treatments to each patient through impactful improvements in treatment delivery. Our whole research team believes that such delivery of treatment will improve the outcomes down the line.

How could your results of the research impact women and the healthcare system in Canada?

There are two ways to reduce the burden of cervical cancer: prevention and finding a cure.

Our team is working on the cure part, which involves treatment and delivery and addressing some of the process barriers for improving the efficacy of the treatments that are already out there by determining new possibilities. We do that through novel strategies like machine learning, predictive modelling, and developing 3D printed applicators that are individualized to each patient. All of these, put together, can really build on those conventional approaches and then help in the treatment that is delivered to the patients.

Improving patient outcomes will have a cascading impact on reducing the burden on our healthcare system. 

What is your inspiration for continuing your cervical cancer research?

The greatest motivation for me is having the treatment improvements we develop through our research endeavours being implemented into practice and seeing a noticeable positive impact on those who have this disease.

Geetha Menon is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Oncology in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. Her research is funded by the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through WCHRI.