New Screening Tool Saving Lives: Metamor Team Developing Tool to Catch Cancer Earlier

February 20, 2024 · Baton Rouge, LA

February is National Cancer Prevention Month and endometrial cancer is the number one cancer associated with excess weight

A new partnership between a Pennington Biomedical physician-researcher at the Metamor Institute and an LSU School of Medicine oncologist has already saved women’s lives in southeast Louisiana.

More than 60,000 women are diagnosed with endometrial cancer each year, a number that includes women much younger than just a decade ago. Endometrial cancer is the fastest growing cancer in young women in Louisiana, particularly among underserved and minority populations.

"Historically, endometrial cancer was pretty much limited to post-menopausal women," said Vance L. Albaugh, MD, PhD, a metabolic surgeon with Pennington Biomedical’s Metamor Institute. "But now it is being diagnosed in women who are much younger than before, even women in their teens in some cases."

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and estimates are that nearly 2 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer (other than non-melanoma skin cancer) during 2023. While obesity is significantly associated with 13 unique types of cancer, endometrial cancer is the number one cancer associated with excess weight.

Researchers believe the reason for the dramatic increase in endometrial cancer is linked to the fact that fat tissue normally produces a small amount of estrogen. Typically, that amount of estrogen is negligible, but a much larger amount of estrogen is abnormally produced when someone has excess fat tissue. Even though estrogen levels rise and fall throughout the menstrual cycle normally, those levels remain persistently elevated in women with severe obesity. This estrogen elevation is a strong growth signal that drives the development of endometrial cancer.

As the Division Director of Gynecologic Oncology at the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, Amelia Jernigan, MD, was also witnessing this phenomenon of worsening obesity and increasing endometrial cancer in her daily work.

"We are already seeing and treating women with obesity at Metamor and at the metabolic surgery program at LSU Health in New Orleans. Both programs take multidisciplinary approaches to improve overall patient health, and it only made sense to ask a few additional questions as part of this novel screening tool to determine endometrial cancer risk in these women," Dr. Albaugh said.

Dr. Albaugh and Dr. Jernigan quickly joined forces to find solutions. Together, they have utilized their new screening tool for almost two years and have screened about 2,000 women pursuing metabolic surgery.

Their project, “Increasing Endometrial Cancer Awareness and Cure for Louisiana Women,” received funding as part of the Baton Rouge Health-Tech Catalyst Build to Scale Program. The program, a Baton Rouge Health District project funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, provides up to $30,000 for Health District member institutions for projects that spark innovation between Health District anchor institutions, community innovators and industry leaders.

Dr. Albaugh and Dr. Jernigan’s project, a partnership among Pennington Biomedical, Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Woman’s Hospital and LSU Health New Orleans, received funding during the 2022 Launchpad Innovation Pilot Project Awards.

“At Pennington Biomedical, we put science to work for a healthier Louisiana,” said Dr. John Kirwan, Pennington Biomedical Executive Director. “Our mission is to discover the triggers of obesity and diet-related diseases and improve the health of all people, and this collaboration is doing just that. We applaud the work being done by Dr. Albaugh and Dr. Jernigan, along with our partners on this effort, and hope that we are able to discover incidents of endometrial cancer earlier with these new screening tools.”

Dr. Albaugh said that identifying women with cancer early can prevent the need for hysterectomy or other invasive treatments and are of tremendous benefit in women wanting to bear children.

“We have been surprised by the number of women experiencing abnormal bleeding. Unfortunately, most don’t realize their cycles are abnormal, and they don’t realize they are at increased risk for cancer," he said.

Dr. Albaugh and Dr. Jernigan are advocating for all metabolic/bariatric clinics to start screening their female patients for endometrial cancer, sometimes called uterine cancer. The screening helps overcome the difficulties of diagnosing a cancer that masquerades as a normal menstrual cycle. Many of the symptoms are present for years before women realize that something might be wrong.

"Our goal is to catch these cancers at very early stages and eliminate the cancer before the need for a major surgery," Dr. Albaugh said. "Our long-term goal is to determine if treating obesity will prevent a woman from developing endometrial cancer. Ultimately, we want to decrease cancer rates among the general public by treating obesity effectively."

Dr. Albaugh is a physician-scientist with an active research program at Pennington Biomedical and clinical practice in metabolic and bariatric surgery at the Metamor Institute, which is a unique partnership among the State of Louisiana, LSU Health New Orleans, Our Lady of the Lake Health, and Pennington Biomedical. It is uniquely focused on the advanced treatment of obesity and diabetes through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to caring for individuals who suffer from these devastating diseases centered in a single facility at the world-renowned Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

To watch a short video of Dr. Albaugh and Dr. Jernigan discussing their work, click here.

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Joe Coussan, Media Relations Manager,, 225-763-3049 or Ernie Ballard, Senior Director of Communications & Marketing,, 225-263-2677.

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is a campus of the LSU System. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 530 employees within a network of 44 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is a state-of-the-art research facility on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge. For more information, see

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