Notable News: October 2020

Researchers have been studying cancer for a long time, and now there is a timeline listing some of the most important milestones over the past 250 years. It’s exciting to think that some of the latest discoveries, involving a plant virus, extra DNA in cancer cells, the best time of day to exercise, and who isn’t getting enough breast cancer screenings, could one day be added to the timeline.

Timeline of Cancer Research

The National Cancer Institute, cancer.gov, has put together the timeline of cancer research to highlight some of the most critical milestones during the past 250 years. The timeline begins in 1775, when the first clear link between environmental exposure and cancer was documented. Percival Pott connected the exposure to chimney soot and the occurrence of squamous cell carcinoma in the scrotum of chimney sweeps. Also of note, the first mastectomy to treat breast cancer was done in 1882, and the link between cancer and inflammation was first observed in 1863. In 1903, radiation was used to cure cancer for the first time. It was used to successfully treat two patients with the skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. The Pap Smear test was invented in 1928, and in 1937, the National Cancer Institute was established through legislation signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1941, hormonal therapies to treat prostate cancer were discovered and are still used to this day. The timeline includes critical discoveries and advances in treatment through 2020 and can be found here.

Plant Virus

A plant virus could be a new source for cancer treatment, reports wired.com. The treatment is based on the cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) that infects cowpea plants, a variety of which are the source for black-eyed peas. The virus doesn’t reproduce in mammals like it does in plants, but it does prompt the immune system to respond, which makes researchers hopeful that it could treat a lot of cancers. The body doesn’t always recognize cancerous cells when they appear, but the virus will hopefully help the body’s immune systems recognize the cancer cells and attack them. The study is now being done in dogs that have a common type of oral cancer. When the virus is injected into the cancerous cells in the dogs, their immune systems recognize it as foreign and attack the virus while also attacking the cancerous cells. So far CPMV has proven more effective than other viruses at triggering the immune system response. Learn more about CPMV and how it could one day be used to treat cancer in humans here.

ecDNA Linked to Tumor Growth

Some extra DNA floating around in cancer cells could teach us a lot about tumor growth and drug resistance, reports cen.acs.org. Decades ago, scientists noticed round circle pieces of DNA floating around in cancer cells, and even though that’s not normal, the pieces were mostly ignored. That changed over the past ten years as scientists have been taking a closer look at the extra DNA, now called extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA). In addition to learning that ecDNA are linked to tumor growth and drug resistance, scientists have found evidence that they exist in at least 15 percent of tumors. They appear to be more common in breast, cervical, and esophageal cancers, and a hard-to-treat brain tumor called glioblastoma. Researchers also found that people with ecDNA in their tumors have lower five-year survival rates. Researchers are now hoping to learn more about ecDNA and hope it is the key to effectively treating some hard to treat cancers like glioblastoma. Read more here.

Exercise Early to Prevent Cancer

By now we have probably all heard that exercise helps reduce cancer risk, but the time of day you exercise may be important as well, reports medicalnewstoday.com. New research indicates that people who exercise between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. are less likely to get cancer than people who exercise later in the day. The effect exercise has on circadian rhythm and production of melatonin may be part of the reason the timing matters because both have been shown to have links to a person’s risk of developing cancer. Researchers found that exercising between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. had the best effect on reducing breast and prostate cancers. While the study results couldn’t be confirmed with certainty, it might be worth adjusting your workout time. Learn more about the study here.

Breast Cancer Screenings

Screenings have proven to be important in treating cancer, but not everyone is getting the screenings they need. Women in the United States who speak only Spanish are 27 percent less likely to get breast cancer screenings, reports medicalnewstoday.com. A new study, based on data from the 2015 National Health Survey, led researchers to estimate that 450,000 women aged 40-75 had never gotten a mammogram. The consequences of not being screened can be life threatening, as breast cancer often has no symptoms, and the chances of surviving are greater when the cancer is detected early. One of the reasons researchers found that the Spanish only speakers weren’t getting screened is because they may consider themselves at low risk. Breast cancer does affect fewer Hispanic women than non-Hispanic white women, but it is still the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women. Find more information about the study and recommended screening guidelines here.

While much of October is spent raising awareness about breast cancer screenings, sometimes it’s important to look at some of the other aspects of a cancer diagnosis, such as the financial implications. After a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent MRSA infections, a finance and credit card expert learned a lot about medical debt, and she shares her story and tips for how to manage medical bills here. It’s an interesting and informative must read for those with medical debt.

Whether or not any of these studies will end up on future versions of the NCI milestone timeline remains to be seen. In the meantime, if they help any one person survive cancer, that feels monumental enough.