Researchers at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center are recruiting patients at both the precancerous and most advanced stage of cervical cancer to participate in clinical trials developing new immunotherapies for the disease.

One of these potential therapies treats the lesions associated with cervical dysplasia and vulvar dysplasia, conditions in which abnormal cells grow along the lining of the cervix or vulva. These conditions are strongly associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and carry a high risk of becoming cancer when left untreated. Additionally, current methods for treating cervical and vulvar dysplasia can address the lesions but not the underlying viral infection, leaving these women at a lifelong increased risk for cervical or vulvar cancer. The investigational treatment involves an injection directly into the lesions to boost the patient’s immune response against HPV and hopefully help the patient clear the HPV from her body.

“Our hope is that this method will improve a patient’s overall immune response to HPV,” said Lynda Roman, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and division chief of gynecologic oncology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Roman is also the principal investigator of the study. “Many women are infected with HPV but do not develop cervical or vulvar dysplasia, and we suspect that improving the body’s immune response to the virus is the key to halting the development of cervical and vulvar cancer.”

The second trial examines the efficacy of an immunotherapy for women with advanced or recurrent cervical cancer for whom chemotherapy and radiation has been ineffective. Currently, there are few viable treatment options for this subset of cervical cancer patients. The treatment involves T-cell therapy, a promising new approach, combined with chemotherapy to regulate the immune system. The clinical trial is supported by the National Cancer Institute, where the initial trial showing some success with this approach was done.

“If successful, this treatment could change the standard of care for women with advanced cervical cancer and potentially save lives,” said Roman, who is the principal investigator for this trial, as well. “Clinical trials are the method through which we push cancer treatment forward, and we are proud to be a part of this effort.”

Those interested in participating in either of these trials can visit for more information.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 13,200 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year and that more than 4,000 women will die from the disease. The mortality rate has dropped significantly over the past few years due to improved screening, but populations with low access to gynecologic care are still very much at risk for the disease.

— Mary Dacuma