Women are exposed to estrogen, the female steroid hormone, throughout their reproductive lives. As natural levels of estrogen fall in menopause, some women take hormone replacement therapy containing estrogen. When estrogen alone is taken in the menopause, it appears to increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Estrogen acts through the estrogen receptor, a protein on the surface of cells that binds estrogen in ovarian, breast and other cells in the body. At least 60 percent of ovarian cancers express the estrogen receptor, but it appears to act differently in ovarian cancers than in breast cancers. Using a unique mouse model, Dr. Spillman plans to identify estrogen-regulated genes in ovarian cancers that may differ from those in breast cancers. These ovarian-cancer specific genes may be targets for novel ovarian cancer treatment. She also is investigating drugs that inhibit the estrogen receptor in breast cancer, such as tamoxifen and letrozole, to determine if they might be effective in ovarian cancer in addition to standard chemotherapy.
Dr. Spillman was born in Victorville, California, the daughter of Lt. Col. (Ret.) James A. Spillman and Alice G. Spillman. She graduated from Santa Anna High School in Santa Anna, Texas, as the valedictorian. She enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin in the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program of the College of Natural Sciences. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry with High Honors, she enrolled in the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas.
At UT Southwestern, Dr. Spillman participated in the combined Medical Scientist Training Program which culminated in the awarding of both the MD and PhD degrees. Her PhD thesis was entitled, “Estrogen Regulated Genes in Breast and Ovarian Cancer.”
She pursued clinical training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Brigham and Women’s/Massachusetts General Hospital Integrated Residency Program in Boston, Massachusetts. She completed a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Dr. Spillman has been an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Colorado Denver since 2003. She also serves as a Women’s Reproductive Health Research Fellow at UCD. She continues to pursue her interest in hormone regulated genes within the Program of Excellence in Cancers of the Ovary in Colorado (PECOC).
“Spillman’s Liz Tilberis Scholars Award.” University of Colorado Cancer Center Director’s Message, April 7, 2009.