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Notable News July 2020

It seems like everyone is talking about the Broadway musical Hamilton this month, so let’s take a cue from A.Ham himself and rise up because sitting is proving, yet again, to not be so good for us. Also, not good yet again? Covid-19. It’s especially not good for people with cancer. What is good? Advances in cancer treatment and a blood test that delivers super early cancer detection.

PanSeer

PanSeer is a non-invasive blood test that can detect five types of cancer up to four years earlier than current methods of diagnosis, reports theguardian.com. The blood test is not a cancer predictor, but instead is finding cancers before they cause symptoms or are detected through other screening methods. The test is not able to indicate the type of cancer a patient has, but, with further research, shows promise for early, non-invasive diagnosis. You can learn more here and here.

Photodynamic Therapies

Also showing promise is research regarding skin cancer treatments that could be used to treat other types of cancer, reports medicalxpress.com. Photodynamic therapies (PDT) which use light to treat skin cancers by destroying cancerous and precancerous cells could possibly be used to treat other types of cancers thanks to the development of silica nanocapsules that can be used to convert near-infrared light to visible light. Right now, PDT only works if the tumors are on or under the skin because it works with visible light to activate medications that are injected into unhealthy tissue. However, since near-infrared light can get deeper into the tissues and then be converted into visible light by the silica nanocapsules, the treatment becomes more versatile. Learn more about the process here.

Good Diet Improves Treatment

Speaking of versatile, changing your diet could really help during breast cancer treatment, says cancernetwork.com. Recently reported study findings show that a fasting mimicking diet is safe and effective during chemotherapy in women with early breast cancer. The diet appears to have a positive effect on how well the cancer treatment works, and also reduces the side effects caused by the treatment. Basically, the research found that when fasting, there were less nutrients and insulin for the healthy cells to address, indicating the body should conserve energy and put healthy cells into maintenance mode. Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cells, so instead of attacking the less-active healthy cells, it would easily find the malignant cells which don’t pick up on body signals and continue to divide despite the fast. Fasting mimicking diets are low-calorie, low-protein, low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet plans that trick your body into thinking it is fasting. You can learn more about fasting mimicking diets and breast cancer treatments here and here.

Cancer and COVID-19

The sooner we can get a treatment for Covid-19, the better, but in the meantime, cancer patients need to be especially diligent about avoiding the virus. The longer you have had cancer, the higher your risk of a severe Covid-19 infection, says technologynetworks.com. Research has found that people who were diagnosed with cancer 2 years or more ago are more likely to have a severe Covid-19 infection. While there are not a lot of studies regarding cancer patients and Covid-19, one study of 156 cancer patients with confirmed Covid-19 infection showed that 22 percent of the patients died from the infection, and those who had been diagnosed two years or more prior to infection were at a higher risk of dying. Symptoms of Covid-19 can mimic cancer symptoms or the affects of cancer treatments, so it can be hard to diagnose Covid-19 in cancer patients, which could result in more severe infections or higher death rates. Learn more about the study here.

Activity Decreases Cancer Risk

Avoiding exposure to the coronavirus may keep some of us out of the gym, but we still need to get moving, otherwise we increase our risk of dying from cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. In a study where patient activity level was tracked through hip monitors, researchers found that the amount of time people are sedentary puts them at a higher risk for dying from cancer. Researchers also found that being physically active for 30 minutes a day decreased the risk of dying from cancer. Vigorous exercise decreased the risk 31 percent and light exercise decreased the risk 8 percent. The increased activity doesn’t have to be all at once, either. It can be as simple as standing for five minutes every hour while you are at work. Instead of thinking you must get out there and exercise for thirty minutes at a time, think, ‘sit less, move more,’ throughout your day. Find more information here.

June 2020 Notable News

It’s officially summer so grab a cup of coffee and soak up some vitamin D because this month we learn that both of those things can help prevent cancer. We also learn about the recall of a popular drug and the approval of some others. In addition, there’s a new blood test to diagnose liver cancer and some tips on how to recognize skin cancer. Finally, research shows that COVID-19 remains a very real threat, especially for cancer patients.

Vitamin D and Coffee Benefits

With so much going on, your vitamin D status may not be on your mind, but you might want to give it some thought, reports sciencedaily.com. It turns out that a good vitamin D status is good for cancer prevention and prognosis, especially for colon and blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Conversely, a low vitamin D status often correlates with higher incidence of cancer and lower survival rates. You can learn more about vitamin D and cancer here.

While you’re out soaking up the vitamin D from the sun’s rays, you might want to bring your favorite cup of coffee because there’s evidence that coffee could reduce the risk of cancer, reports dailycoffeenews.com. The news comes from an update in the diet activity guidelines from the American Cancer Society. It’s not known how or why coffee seems to help prevent several types of cancers, but there’s been a decade of research that supports the claim. In addition to coffee, the American Cancer Society recommends following a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, staying active, and maintaining a healthy weight. Research shows that diet and exercise lifestyle choices are connected to 18 percent of all cancer cases in the United States. Learn more about coffee and cancer here.

Take a Look at Your Skin

All this talk about sun exposure makes it a good time to think about skin cancer. Especially since there’s room for improvement in skin cancer survival rates, says consumerreports.org. Getting to know your own skin could be the key to survival. A Consumer Reports survey found that only 52 percent of Americans have their skin regularly checked by a doctor. There’s debate about whether or not everyone should see a dermatologist every year, but early detection of skin cancer makes a big difference. When skin cancer is found early treatment is relatively non-invasive and early stage melanoma has a 98 percent survival rate. So, whether you see a doctor or not, you should perform monthly skin checks of your own. Get familiar with the moles and marks on your skin and look for any that don’t seem to fit in. If you find something that looks irregular, let your doctor know. Learn more and find examples of what skin cancer looks like here.

Metformin Hydrochloride Recall

While you’re checking your skin, you might also need to check your list of medications. A popular diabetes drug has been recalled due to cancer risk, reports webmd.com. All lots of metformin hydrochloride extended release 500 mg tablets were recalled due to the possibility that they contained high levels of N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) which is a chemical thought to cause cancer. A test by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found higher than allowed levels of NDMA in one lot of metformin. Get more information about the recall here.

FDA Expands Indication for Gardasil 9

The FDA has given accelerated approval for the use of a vaccine to prevent head and neck cancers, reports statnews.com. The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil 9, is recommended for both males and females ages 9 through 45 to prevent several cancers. However, the vaccine was not previously recommended as prevention for head and neck cancers even though they are commonly caused by HPV in the United States. The hope is that, by including head and neck cancers in the list of cancers the vaccine prevents, it will raise awareness for and help prevent the occurrence of these types of cancers. Find more about Gardasil here.

Good News for Thyroid and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The FDA has also given accelerated approval for a drug to treat thyroid and lung cancer, says cancer.gov. The drug selpercatinib (Retevmo) will treat people with thyroid or non-small cell lung cancer with tumors that have a gene alteration called RET. The drug blocks the RET proteins and was shown to shrink tumors. Selpercatinib has fewer side effects than older RET blocking drugs. Accelerated approval means that, although the drug has not gone through all required levels of testing, it can be approved for use, but testing must continue while the product is on the market. The process is only used for drugs that treat serious or life-threatening diseases without better treatment options. Learn more about the accelerated approval of selpercatinib here.

Combatting Nausea

There’s another drug of note this month giving hope to advanced cancer patients who have nausea and vomiting, says cancer.gov. In a study conducted by the National Cancer Institute the drug olanzapine (Zyprexa) was found to reduce nausea and vomiting in advanced cancer patients. Olanzapine is an antipsychotic medication mainly used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and has also been used off-label to prevent nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. Learn more here.

Detecting Liver Cancer

The National Cancer Institute was also involved in a study where a blood test has been developed to determine which people are most likely to develop liver cancer, says cancer.gov. The simple blood test is used to check for exposure to certain viruses that lead to the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) which is the most common form of liver cancer. The test could help lead to early diagnosis and treatment. Most patients with HCC are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced and incurable, but when caught early the prognosis is much better. With HCC on the rise in the US, a test that could help with early detection is welcome news. Learn more about the testing here.

COVID-19 Update

The not-so-welcome news continues about the novel coronavirus. There are some new studies that emphasize the danger of the coronavirus for cancer patients, reports apnews.com. The studies showed that current and former cancer patients who developed COVID-19 were more likely to die within a month than people without cancer. One study showed that 13 percent of cancer patients with COVID-19 died. Another study found the death rate to be 28 percent. The studies are a reminder of how critical it is for cancer patients to do all they can to follow safety guidelines so they can avoid contracting the virus. Find out more here.

Notable News: May 2020

Just in time for summer, there are a couple of compelling reminders of why we should all be exercising more. There’s also a new map for breast cancer, and a new vaccine that we’ve all been hoping for. No, not the one for Covid-19, but this one is equally important. Oh, and, speaking of infectious diseases, new research shows that getting an infectious disease could very possibly lead to cancer.

Researchers have found a link between infectious diseases and the development of cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. In a study that looked at data from more than 50,000 people over a period of seven years, researchers determined that people who had had an infectious disease, such as influenza, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, and hepatitis, had a higher risk of developing a later cancer. In addition, different infections were linked to different forms of cancer. For example, people who had pneumonia were more likely to later develop stomach cancer. More research needs to be done to fully understand the connection but, knowing that there is a link between some diseases and future cancer occurrence could help in developing better cancer screenings and diagnostic testing. It could also help us all work harder at staying as healthy as possible. Learn more here.

Like it or not, a great way to actively try to stay healthy is through exercise. Research continues to show that exercise is beneficial for cancer treatment and prevention. More specifically, a new study shows that exercise may help prevent liver cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. This is particularly good news because liver cancer is on the rise and it is deadly. The general five-year survival rate is 18 percent. Men are at a higher risk of developing liver cancer, and it is the fastest growing cause of cancer death for men in the United States. The study, performed on mice, found that exercise reduced the occurrence of liver cancer. While all the mice in the study were obese, only 15 percent of the mice who exercised developed liver cancer. Of the mice that didn’t exercise, 64 percent developed liver cancer. In addition to establishing the link between exercise and liver health, the researchers also discovered molecular reasons why exercise may prevent liver cancer. They found that exercise switched off a stress-activated protein that has been found to support tumor development and turned on a gene that has been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Hop on the treadmill and learn more about the study here.

Exercise can not only prevent cancer, it can also increase your chance of survival. A new study shows that exercise increases the length of survival for women with high-risk breast cancers, reports cancer.gov. High-risk breast cancers are more likely to recur or spread, but the study showed that women who were physically active were more likely to live longer and were less likely to have their cancer recur. While those who exercised the most and the most often showed a greater reduction in rates of recurrence and chance of death, there were positive outcomes for those who exercised during any stage of their diagnosis and treatment. Learn more about the positive effect exercise can have on breast cancer survival rates here.

There’s encouraging news in breast cancer prevention as well. A new guide has been developed to show how environmental toxins can lead to breast cancer, reports medicalxpress.com. Since only five to ten percent of breast cancers are a result of high-risk, inherited gene mutations, researchers wanted to better understand the role toxic chemicals play in the development of breast cancer. Using radiation exposure as a model, researchers identified the sequential biological changes that occur through exposure to toxic chemicals. The information was used to create a map highlighting the various ways toxins can lead to breast cancer. Researchers hope their map will be used in the development and regulation of chemicals. Knowing which chemicals can trigger breast cancer could help in reducing the number of breast cancer cases. More information can be found here.

Of course, the ultimate form of cancer prevention might be a vaccine and researchers are getting closer to making that a reality. A new and promising cancer vaccine has been developed, reports techtimes.com and medicalxpress.com. The vaccine was developed using microcapsules and when the vaccine is injected, the microcapsules, which have a self-healing component, activate the immune system, and inhibit tumor development. The vaccine showed effectiveness against different types of tumors including melanoma, breast cancer, and lymphoma. More information about how the vaccine was developed and how it works in the body can be found here and here.

It’s nice to know that the scientists are out there doing the research and working on creating important vaccines that give us hope for a healthier tomorrow, but it’s also nice to know that simply by taking a walk or a run or a bike ride and by washing our hands or wearing a mask or keeping our distance, we are all taking important steps toward being empowered patients today.

Notable News January 2020

From our own immune systems to turmeric, researchers are searching just about everywhere to help put a stop to cancer. The possibilities are endless and the advancements are remarkable. A new treatment or a cure could be anywhere. And, acupuncture can help, too!

It turns out that acupuncture could be the solution to a particularly troublesome and painful side effect from chemotherapy, reports bbc.com. In a patient study, acupuncture was found to relieve chemotherapy neuropathy, which is nerve damage, usually in the hands and feet, that causes tingling, numbness, and other symptoms. More severe cases can be very painful and affect a patient’s quality of life. The three year study of 120 patients showed that, with regular acupuncture treatment, patients found relief from the pain of neuropathy. Learn more here.

Of course, chemotherapy and its side effects might eventually fade into the past. It’s looking more and more like a cure to cancer might very well be inside each of us. Scientists have found a T-cell in our immune systems that can check the body for cancer cells, attack and kill them, and leave the healthy cells alone, reports BBC.com. The discovery was made by British scientists while they were analyzing blood for immune cells that could fight bacteria, says theblaze.com. Instead, they discovered a T-cell that can attack many different cancers, including lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney, and cervical cancers. The study findings suggest that one therapy could be developed to treat all cancers, which is different than the current and very specific immunotherapies. Treatment would involve taking a blood sample from the patient, extracting, modifying, and producing more of the T-cells, and then putting the newly modified T-cells back in the patient to seek out and destroy the cancerous cells. So far the research has been tested on animals and is not yet ready for human testing, but the researchers hope to be able to test the treatment in patients by the end of the year. You can learn more here, and here, and even more here.

Also new in cancer treatment is a medication providing hope for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients, notes cancer.gov. The drug, CC-486, is a pill that patients can take at home (as opposed to AML therapy, azacitidine, which is an injection or infusion that is given at the doctor’s office or hospital), and it is the first AML maintenance therapy that extends remission and shows an increase in patient survival. CC-486 was tested in a clinical trial of almost 500 AML patients, age 55 or older. The study found that the patients who took CC-486 survived 10 months longer than those who did not take it, and the pill also extended how long the patients stayed in remission. More studies of CC-486 are being done to determine how it might best be used to transform the treatment of AML in the future. Find out more here.

While new therapies are being discovered, there are also some new cancer fighting drugs that aren’t so new at all, reports medicalxpress.com. Researchers discovered about 50 already-existing drugs, used to treat conditions such as diabetes, inflammation, and high cholesterol, that also have cancer fighting properties. To identify which already circulating medications might be able to be used to treat cancer, researchers used a drug hub that contains more than 6,000 drugs which are FDA-approved or proven safe through clinical trials. The findings determined that the medications killed cancer cells in ways that most cancer drugs typically don’t. Existing cancer drugs tend to block proteins to be effective against the cancer cells, but the non-oncology drugs that were tested worked against the cancer cells by activating or stabilizing proteins. The researchers are continuing to analyze their data and have shared it openly with the rest of the scientific community. Find more information here.

Some other potential cancer fighters that already exist include salt, turmeric, and bitter melon, reports medicalnewstoday.com. Information about a new study where salt has been successfully used to kill cancer cells can be found here. Between 1924 and 2018 there have been 12,595 papers studying the healing properties of turmeric and 37 percent of those have focused on cancer. Learn more about whether or not turmeric is a viable option for treating cancer here. There is also a study that shows that bitter melon, a traditional Indian remedy, might be effective in preventing the spread of cancer. Read more about that study here.

Whether the study is about immunotherapy or salt, all the research suggests the same thing: until we can put a stop to cancer, researchers will never stop searching for a cure.

Notable News – December 2018

Here we are on the cusp of another trip around the sun, and we have the opportunity to look forward to what the new year may bring. According to cancer.gov and cdc.gov, statistics found here and here, are encouraging when it comes to cancer survival rates. The number of cancer survivors in the United States is expected to reach 20.3 million by 2026. That’s good news for the 38.4 percent of men and women in the US that will receive a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lifetimes. Of course, surviving cancer can be costly. Expenditures for cancer care, which were $147.3 billion in 2017, are expected to increase in the coming years thanks to factors such as a population that is aging and new and costlier treatments which are implemented as standards of care. While cancer care is expensive, it seems to be effective. The overall cancer death rate has been steadily declining in the US since the 1990s. In fact, from 1991 to 2015, the overall cancer death rate fell 26 percent. According to cdc.gov, by 2020 the cancer death rates are expected to drop the most for prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, female breast cancer, oral cancers, cervical cancers, and melanoma. With the death rate falling and the survivor rate increasing it’s clear that, over the past several years, progress has been made to effectively prevent and treat the disease. Fortunately, it looks like 2019 will follow that trend.

There are two promising cancer treatment developments this month, reports medicalnewstoday.com. The first one helps prevent the spread of cancer after surgery. A spray-on gel being developed could help stop the recurrence and spread of cancer tumors after surgery when it is applied to the surgery site. The gel is full of drugs that activate the immune system to prevent the return of the cancer. Testing done on mice has been promising. It prevented the recurrence of cancer at the surgery site and prevented tumors from forming in other areas of the body. You can find more details about the promising gel here.

The second development is an exciting combination of medications that may prevent tumor growth. A couple of years ago, researchers in Switzerland figured out that by combining metformin, a drug used to treat diabetes, with syrosingopine, a blood pressure drug, they could prevent cancer tumors from growing. The combination of the two drugs kills the cancer cells by cutting off their energy supply. You can learn more about how this dynamic drug duo works together to sock it to cancer here.

There’s also good news regarding breast cancer this month, reports standard.co.uk. This is really good news because it gives hope to women with one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. There aren’t many treatment options for triple negative breast cancer, but targeted antibody therapies might change that. Triple negative breast cancer does not respond to hormone treatment so patients have to be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The targeted antibody therapy would activate the patient’s immune system to fight the tumor. More about this exciting and developing treatment can be found here.

Of course, the best news of all comes when the cancer is no longer detectable, and that’s exactly what happened for a Texas girl this month, reports abc7chicago.com. The 11 year old had a rare and inoperable brain tumor, and she went through weeks of radiation. The radiation can stabilize or shrink the tumor and is the only course of treatment, but there is no cure. Inexplicably, the girl’s scans revealed that the tumor was no longer visible. While doctors call this case extraordinary, they say the long-term prognosis has not changed, and the tumor will likely grow back. In the mean time, the family says they prayed for a miracle and got it. More about this remarkable story, and a video, can be found here.

As we ring in 2019, let’s hope for more encouraging research and remarkable stories, and a day when all cancers disappear.

Notable News: March 2018

Medicare-eligible cancer patients just got more access to genetic testing according to reuters.com. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will now pay for some genetic tests in order to help get patients the drugs most likely to benefit them. The coverage means that a patient’s test sample could be screened for all known gene mutations and potential treatments. Results can also be used to determine if a patient is eligible for clinical trials. Several in vitro diagnostic tests are covered and some future tests that gain approval by the Food and Drug Administration will be covered as well. Patients will also be covered for repeat testing of a new primary cancer diagnosis. More information about the coverage and genetic testing for medicare patients can be found here.
Vitamin D may protect against some cancers, reports sciencedaily.com. An international study conducted in Japan that followed more than 30,000 male and female participants for an average of 16 years found that higher levels of vitamin D were related to about a 20 percent reduction in cancer for both men and women. The study also showed a 30 to 50 percent reduction in liver cancer, mostly in men. The authors of the study say their findings support the theory that vitamin D protects against cancer, but they also note that more studies are needed to determine the optimum level of vitamin D to prevent cancer. You can find more details about this promising study here.
A diabetes drug may be able to stop the progression and spread of pancreatic cancer, says medicalnewstoday.com. The study, by Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, is not the first to find metformin as a possible treatment for cancer, but it is the first to pinpoint why. The drug has an effect on the signaling of what is called the REarranged during Transfection (RET) cell and by targeting it with metformin it appears to prevent the progression of pancreatic cancer. The studies on metformin and the treatment of cancer have created interest in also using metformin as a potential in preventing cancer, especially in those who are at high risk. The scientists who conducted the Rutgers study say further studies need to be done to determine exactly how metformin affects RET signaling in pancreatic cancer. Learn more here.
Researchers may have found a better way to predict the effectiveness of drugs in cancer patients, reports cnbc.com. The researchers took biopsies from colorectal cancer patients and created what they are calling microtumors. They then treated the micro tumors with drugs and observed how well they worked. The method proved much faster than the previous method of growing cancer in mice which typically takes six to eight months. The micro tumors grow in six to eight weeks. The microtumor method is also less expensive and was more effective in predicting how well drugs will treat an individual’s cancer. The microtumor option will help doctors prescribe the best drug for their patients and according to the lead doctor of the study, patients are already in trials for the new process. More information about the microtumors and how they will help patients can be found here.