February 2021 Notable News

February may be the shortest month, but it is definitely not short on news, and it is full of surprises. From green tea to feces, and genetic testing to fertility, this month has it all and then some. There’s a lot of information to learn, but there are also answers to some pressing questions that many cancer patients have been asking.

Covid-19 Vaccines

Questions about the Covid-19 vaccines are on the minds of many cancer patients these days, and now the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions can be found at cancer.gov. The questions include why cancer patients are considered a high priority group for the vaccine, which cancer patients should not get the vaccine, and how effective the vaccine is in people with cancer. Answered by Steven Pergam, M.D. with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the answers provide the latest recommendations regarding the Covid-19 vaccines and cancer patients. Find out more here.

Cancer and Fertility

For younger patients with cancer, fertility can be a concern, and many are relying on non-profit organizations to help them, reports apnews.com. Cancer treatments such as radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy can negatively affect fertility so many patients look into fertility preservation options, but the procedures can cost $15,000 or more. Further, very few states mandate that insurance companies cover fertility preservation costs for patients who will likely become infertile from medical treatments, so coverage is often denied, and many patients end up taking on exorbitant debt to pay for the treatments themselves. However, there are now non-profit organizations that will help pay at least some of the costs of fertility preservation procedures for women with cancer. Advocates say these organizations, often funded on small donations, offer a lifeline to young cancer patients, but that the situation is not ideal. They say a change in the system, creating a federal mandate for fertility protection, is the ultimate goal. Learn more here.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in women is now the most diagnosed cancer in the world, reports cnn.com. Making up 11.7 percent of all new cancer cases, breast cancer in women has surpassed lung cancer as the most diagnosed cancer. However, lung cancer continues to be the leader in the number of cancer deaths. The increase in breast cancer is likely related to risk factors including excess body weight, physical inactivity, and alcohol consumption. Find more information here.

Neuroblastoma

Researchers are closer to understanding neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer most often found in young children, reports sciencedaily.com. A study showed that the levels of a chromosome instability gene called USP24 were low in children whose neuroblastoma tumors were extremely aggressive. They also found that USP24 plays a role in protecting cells during cell division. Learn more about the study findings here.

Fecal Transplant to Treat Cancer

Cancer researchers will look just about anywhere to find better treatments, including in fecal matter. A new study shows that patients with cancer that don’t respond to immunotherapy drugs, can benefit from an adjustment to the gut microbiome through a fecal transplant, reports cancer.gov. In the study, some patients with advanced melanoma who did not respond to immunotherapy, did respond after a fecal transplant from a patient who had responded to the immunotherapy. The study shows that altering the gut microbiome can improve a patient’s response to certain types of therapy. More research is needed to determine which microorganisms are involved in creating the response to the immunotherapy, but the findings could lead to better ways to treat patients who don’t initially respond to treatments. Learn more about the study and its results here.

Urine Testing to Detect Cancer

A study shows that DNA fragments found in urine can indicate whether a person has cancer, reports sciencedaily.com. Scientists say there is a lot more research to be done between this new discovery and using urine samples to detect cancer, but the discovery is encouraging. Further research could potentially lead to early, noninvasive detection of cancer. Learn more here.

Genetic Testing

While a consumer-based genetic test might be great for identifying common traits, it is not as reliable in identifying diseases, reports cnn.com. The single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) test is used by consumer DNA and ancestry companies to detect traits people share, such as eye color and height, but when it comes to identifying rare disease-causing mutations, the SNP test wasn’t very reliable. Researchers found the SNP test to perform so poorly in detecting genetic variants for disease that they recommend the results never be used to guide a patient’s medical care. In fact, people who have relied on the SNP test results have endured invasive and unnecessary procedures based on false positive results. Learn more here, and if you think you are at risk for cancer, consult your doctor for proper screening.

Benefits of Green Tea

There is good news for tea lovers. Drinking green tea may be able to prevent the development of cancer, reports goodnewsnetwork.org. An antioxidant in the tea increases the level of a gene called p53, which is known as the “Guardian of the Genome” because it can repair DNA damage and destroy cancer cells. Scientists are hoping to be able to make a drug that would mimic the effects the antioxidant in green tea has on p53. Learn more here.

Benefits of Exercise

It doesn’t matter how hard you exercise as long as you exercise. Physical activity during cancer treatment is known to be beneficial for physical and mental health and may even reduce some of the side effects from treatment, but a new study shows that the intensity of the training does not seem to matter, reports sciencedaily.com. The study followed 577 breast, prostate or colorectal patients, ages 30 to 84, who were randomly assigned either high or low to moderate training programs. While there were some differences in the results, the researchers concluded that the intensity of exercise didn’t differ in a clinically relevant way. Learn more about the study findings here.

Cancer-Related Suicides Decreases

A new study shows that the suicide rate related to cancer has decreased in the United States between 1999 and 2018, reports cancer.gov. Researchers were prompted to examine the cancer-related suicide rates by advances in palliative and supportive care, hospice, and mental healthcare, as well as easier access to resources, but the study cannot make a direct link between improved care and the incidence of cancer-related suicides. While the decreased number of incidences is good news, cancer patients remain in a high-risk group for suicide, and there is now greater focus on screening those who may be depressed. The National Cancer Institute is funding research to develop technology for screening and treatment of depression during oncology office visits. Learn more here, and if you, or someone you know, is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to anyone. All calls are confidential. You can also contact the Crisis Text Line, a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.