Uterine cancer

Clinical trial provides Judi hope and more time

Judi Trampf, smiling, walking next to her oncologist Ryan Spencer
Judi Trampf and Dr. Ryan Spencer, her oncologist at UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center.

Judi Trampf has been focused on living her life to the fullest with her wife, Katy Heyning. They’ve been jet-setting to bucket list countries, planning cruises and visiting family and friends often.

For Trampf, who has had a strong response to clinical trial treatment at UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center for advanced uterine cancer, she wants to make the most of the days she is still feeling good.

“You live with the time you have, and people think about doing these things in retirement, and you’re like, ‘Well I’m looking at the next year, two years,’” she said. “Something we’ve always wanted to do is travel.”

Trampf was first diagnosed with uterine cancer, also called endometrial cancer, in 2016. She contacted her doctor after noticing a slight bit of blood on her toilet paper — something she might have otherwise ignored if a friend had not been recently diagnosed with uterine cancer. A common symptom is unusual vaginal bleeding, including heavy bleeding between periods, or any bleeding after a woman has gone through menopause.

“Bleeding after menopause is never normal,” said Dr. Ryan Spencer, Trampf’s oncologist. “Now, there’s certainly other reasons to have bleeding, but we recommend everyone who has even the smallest amount see their physician, because then they can start down that pathway of investigation and potential diagnosis very early.”

Trampf had been through menopause, so her prompt response with a doctor led to a very early cancer diagnosis. She had surgery to remove her uterus, cervix and surrounding lymph nodes. Because she was diagnosed so early, the odds were very slim that her cancer would come back. She still met with an oncologist annually for monitoring.

About four years later while living in New York, Trampf noticed she was having pain in her right hip. The pain got worse over time, and she was losing mobility in that leg. A CT scan found a tumor the size of a softball in her right hip, and a biopsy confirmed it was a recurrence of her uterine cancer.

Trampf started radiation treatments in June 2021 while she and her wife were in the process of moving back to Madison. When told she may have months left even with existing chemotherapy treatments, she asked about clinical trial options.

“I didn’t like the prognosis of ‘get your life in order,’” she said.

Trampf began a trial at Carbone in September 2021 that tested a new treatment approach for women with advanced or recurrent uterine cancer. The trial, led at UW by Dr. Ellen Hartenbach, has multiple parts: In addition to patients receiving the current standard chemotherapy treatments for their cancer, researchers are evaluating the benefit of adding immunotherapy for one group of patients. For another group, they’re receiving both immunotherapy and a PARP inhibitor, a targeted therapy meant to enhance the immune response.

The remaining patients receive the standard chemotherapy and a placebo, or inactive version of the study drugs. This is to ensure reliable results of whether the new treatments are a better approach. Neither patients nor the clinic staff know who is receiving which combination.

Trampf said she was willing to try any option that could give her a potential for improvement.

“You are where you are right now anyway if you get the placebo,” she said.

You’re no further behind if you get the placebo. But you might get one of the drugs or both drugs. So, let’s give it a shot.

Since then, Trampf has had a positive response to the trial. She had a significant decrease in the tumor mass in her hip and has not seen new growth in her cancer in about two years. She has also worked hard to regain her mobility and improve her overall health.

Hartenbach said a recent report of the study findings so far showed the added treatments are benefiting those patients, and immunotherapy is now an approved treatment for uterine cancer. Hartenbach said clinical trials are not only a crucial step to validating research and creating new standards of care, but they offer patients a new treatment opportunity that may benefit them.

“By participating in this trial, Judi had access to immunotherapy about two years sooner than in a regular care setting,” Hartenbach said.

Trampf is grateful not only for her own experience in the clinical trial but knowing she is helping to bring more treatment options to women facing their own cancer diagnosis. She has also appreciated learning more about the research done at Carbone.

“It’s been pretty exciting to be part of this and to know that one of the drugs I took in the trial is already now helping other people,” Trampf said. “And I’m just happy to be around still.”