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August 2021 Notable News

The news this month is a little nutty! Actually, it’s a little peanutty! It turns out that eating peanuts could cause cancer to spread but drinking milk could save young people from developing colon cancer. Widowers are more likely to have advanced prostate cancer, and having a positive attitude isn’t necessarily a requirement for surviving cancer. All that and a glimpse into the state of cancer rates across the globe.

Global State of Cancer

A chart detailing the cancer survival, incidence, and death rates of several countries provides information about the global state of cancer, says medicalnewstoday.com. The lowest cancer rates were found in India, which also had the lowest cancer death rates. Doctors in India believe that prevention and education, service delivery, and research should all be equal in cancer care. The United States has the highest cancer rate, but possibly because of the screening tests that detect cancer earlier and more successfully than in other countries. However, the US also has a prevalence of cancer risk factors, such as obesity, that could be contributing to the high incidence of cancer. China has the highest cancer mortality rate. Learn more about the state of cancer in other countries here.

Potential Cause of Metastasis

A recent study shows that cancer patients who eat a lot of peanuts could have an increased risk of metastasis, reports sciencedaily.com. The study showed that, after eating peanuts, a carbohydrate-binding protein called peanut agglutinin (PNA) enters the blood stream. The PNA interacts with blood vascular wall cells which then leads to the production of cytokines, molecules that are known to cause cancer to spread. Another study showed that PNA binds to a sugar chain that is associated with cancer cells and that it could lead to the cancer cells being stickier and easier to attach to blood vessels. While more research needs to be done, patients may want to use caution when it comes to eating large quantities of peanuts. Find more information

here.

Vitamin D Benefits

Vitamin D could help younger adults protect themselves against colon cancer, reports usnews.com. Researchers have learned that the overall incidences of colon cancer are decreasing, but among younger adults, colon cancer is on the rise. The increase in cases seems to be linked with a decline in eating foods full of vitamin D, such as fish, mushrooms, eggs, and milk. The study found that young people could reduce their risk of getting colon cancer at an early age by about 50 percent if they consumed 300 IU of vitamin D each day, which is the equivalent of about three glasses of milk. The study is the first to make the connection between vitamin D levels and the rising rates of colon cancer in the younger population. Read more about the connection here.

Widowers and Prostate Cancer

Researchers found that widowers are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, reports medicalxpress.com. Widowers tend to be diagnosed later than married men or men in a relationship, when the cancer has reached advanced stages and has spread into other areas of the body. Studies have shown that people living with a partner have a healthier lifestyle and are more likely to be encouraged to see a doctor when symptoms appear. For better health outcomes, widowers can turn to family and friends for support and be sure to have regular medical checkups. Learn more here.

Power of Positivity

Some people say that the secret to beating cancer is all about having a positive attitude, but as 20-year cancer survivor Caitlin Flanagan points out in theatlantic.com, sometimes it’s hard to feel positive about a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Read this great piece about why the power of positive thinking may not be a requirement to survive cancer here.


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July 2021 Notable News

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a sunscreen recall, but that may not be the only common household product that could contain cancer-causing chemicals. New research has found a clue to understanding metastasis and hope for treating pancreatic cancer, and it’s time for Americans to admit that consuming alcohol is putting them at greater risk for developing several types of cancer.

Even though fewer than one in three Americans equate drinking alcohol with getting cancer, a recent study links alcohol consumption to more than 740,000 new cases of cancer, reports advisory.com. The three most common alcohol-related cancers are esophageal, liver and breast, but the study also found that mouth, larynx, colon, and rectum cancers are related to alcohol consumption. Cancer risk increased with the amount of alcohol consumed, but even moderate drinking (two or fewer drinks per day) was linked to 14 percent of the alcohol-related cancers. Men may have a higher risk factor as they made up 75 percent of the cancer cases related to alcohol. There are several reasons alcohol consumption is linked to cancer including the way alcohol breaks down in the body. Ethanol, which is the alcohol in beer, wine, and liquor, breaks down into a known carcinogen called acetaldehyde. Other factors are alcohol’s ability to increase hormone levels and to hinder nutrient absorption by the body. Learn more about the link between alcohol consumption and cancer here and here.

A healthy protein in a once-overlooked tiny cell component called an intracellular nanovesicle (INV) may be a clue in explaining how it’s possible for some cancers to metastasize and form secondary tumors, reports medicalxpress.com. The protein, named Tumor Protein D54 (TPD54), is involved in the movement of cells. Researchers found that when higher levels of TPD54 were present cell movement increased, and when there was less TPD54 the cells moved less. Increased levels of the protein are associated with some breast cancers that tend to metastasize indicating that TPD54 plays a role in movement of the cancer cells. However, targeting TPD54 to treat cancer is not ideal as the protein is important for a number of normal cell processes including wound healing and immune response. The discovery of the TPD54 role in cell movement along with more study of the INVs and their function as couriers within a cell, could lead to further understanding of metastasis of cancer cells. Find more information here.

A clinical trial for a new pancreatic cancer treatment is showing positive results, reports biospace.com. The ongoing trial is being conducted by Lantern Pharma for the drug candidate LP-184. So far, the preclinical data showed that pancreatic tumors in mouse models shrank with a promising 90 percent efficacy over eight weeks. In comparison, a control group of untreated mice showed tumor growth over the same period. In addition, researchers saw a significant reduction of cancer cells and cancer cell growth in other models. Further study of LP-184 is planned. Learn more here.

Exposure to household chemicals could increase the risk for breast cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com and studyfinds.org. Researchers say there could be as many as 300 toxic chemicals in common household items such as processed foods, make up, hair products, and furniture. Many household items contain chemicals known as endocrine disrupting inhibitors, and researchers say we should be concerned about our exposure to these chemicals which can alter the hormones that affect breast cancer. While the impact of many of the chemicals is still unknown, there is evidence that some of the chemicals make cells in breast tissue produce more estrogen and progesterone, which both have a known link to breast cancer. Learn more here and here.

Neutrogena, Aveeno, and CVS Health have voluntarily recalled some of their sunscreens or after sun products, reports cnn.com. The sunscreens were found to have been contaminated with benzene, a chemical that increases the risk of developing leukemia and other blood disorders. The recalled products are all batches or lots of Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol, Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense aerosol, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol, and Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol. All recalled Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreens can be found here, and customers can request a refund by completing the form here, or calling 1-800-458-1673. CVS also stopped selling CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera and CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera Spray after the Neutrogena and Aveeno products were recalled. Experts say the recall is not a reason for people to stop using sunscreen as the majority of sunscreens on the market do not contain benzene and successfully protect against skin cancers. An independent lab tested sunscreens and found that most of them did not contain benzene. Learn more about the recalled products and benzene here.


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Patient Advocacy: 7 Ways To Access Medical Journal Articles For Free

Has this ever happened to you? You come across a tweet with a link to a new study in your disease area and you eagerly click on it only to find it leads you to a journal article behind a paywall.   

I’ve lost count of the number of times this has happened to me and the frustration I feel at not being able to access a relevant study without paying an amount I cannot afford. To purchase a single article can cost upwards of $100.  

Over the years I’ve discovered there are some ways to get around this paywall.  Below I’ve outlined 7 tips on gaining access to journal articles. These methods may not always give you access to the full article, but they are certainly worth trying in your search for peer-reviewed literature to better understand your health condition. 

1. Search Google Scholar

Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for journal articles, alongside books from academic publishers.  The site harvests the content of institutional repositories and links them in one record. 

2. Explore online databases

Similar to Google Scholar, there are several online repositories of academic papers free to search online. As I said above, you may not always be able to access the full article, but you will be able to read the study abstract (an abstract is a short summary of the research contained within the study.)  

Core is a search engine and index for aggregated research publications from repositories and journals globally.  

Dimensions is a next-generation linked research information system that makes it easier to find and access the most relevant information. Developed in collaboration with over 100 leading research organizations around the world, it brings together over 128 million publications. Users of the free version can use the Open Access filter to find articles. 

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a list of nearly 10,000 open access journals and a search service finding peer-reviewed and scholarly journals and articles.  

PubMed, maintained by the US National Library of Medicine, is a free search engine covering the biomedical and life sciences going back as far back as 1951. 

JSTOR gives you access to more than 12 million journal articles in upwards of 75 disciplines, providing full-text searches of more than 2,000 journals, and access to more than 5,000 Open Access books. 

Web of Science covers more than 20,000 carefully selected journals, along with books, conference proceedings, and other sources.  

Science.gov covers the vast territory of United States federal science, including more than 60 databases and 2,200-plus websites.

3. Search for pre-printed publications

OSF Preprints is a platform with openly accessible preprints, or submitted manuscripts that are publically distributed before acceptance and peer-review in a traditional scientific journal. An advantage of publishing preprints is the speeding up of scientific communication and of sharing research results earlier, as it can take a long time between submission of an article till publication. OSF Preprints is developed by the Centre for Open Science (COS), a non-profit organization with the goal of greater openness and reproducible research.

4. Download an app

I have installed an app called Unpaywall as a browser extension on my laptop.  

Unpaywall is an open database of 29,624,840 free scholarly articles. The app harvests content from legal sources including repositories run by universities, governments, and scholarly societies, as well as open (free access) content hosted by publishers themselves. 

Open Access Button is another plugin for Chrome or Firefox that works similarly to Unpaywall. Click on the button while you are viewing a pay-walled journal article and it will search for open access versions.  

5. Ask a university librarian or academic

Did you know that people with access to university databases usually have “free” access to all journal articles, because their university pays for it?  If you know someone who works in a university library or is affiliated with an academic institution, it’s worth asking them if they can help you get access to a paywalled journal. 

6. Ask the author for it

While the publisher owns the article, the author will have a legal version he or she can share. Many authors are happy to share a pdf version of their published article. The author’s academic affiliation will be published alongside the article and sometimes this will include their email address. If not a simple Google search should help you find the author’s email contact.   

Metastatic breast cancer patient, Martha Carlson (@Martha__Carlson) says reaching out in this way can be productive. “I’ve had article PDFs sent to me by reaching out to the author and also through other advocates,” she explained.  

ResearchGate and Academia.edu are both platforms that facilitate making contact with researchers and requesting copies of their articles.  

Note: Do NOT share an article an author has given you anywhere online as this will breach the publisher’s copyright rules. 

7. Rent the article

Finally, some journals allow you to “rent” an article for considerably less than buying it. Ok so this tip isn’t free, but if all else fails, it may be your best option.  

I hope you find these tips helpful. As patients and patient advocates, it is important that we can access the latest evidence-based research to help us advocate for ourselves and others.  

Below you will find a list of websites linked to the sites and tools mentioned in this article. 

Useful Sites

Google Scholar:https://scholar.google.com 

Core: https://core.ac.uk 

Dimensions: https://app.dimensions.ai/discover/publication 

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ): https://doaj.org 

PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov 

Web of Science: https://clarivate.com/webofsciencegroup/solutions/web-of-science 

Science.gov: https://www.science.gov 

OSF Preprints: https://osf.io/preprints 

Centre for Open Science: https://www.cos.io 

Unpaywall: http://unpaywall.org 

Open Access Button:https://openaccessbutton.org 

ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net 

Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu 

Notable News June 2021

You might want to put on a fresh pot of coffee for this one. Lemon Frost geckos, genetically engineered mice, and American Lobsters have a lot to teach us about cancer; it looks like it’s past time to cut down on the amount of red meat we eat; there could be a new treatment for metastatic prostate cancer; and there are some clinical trials under way for cancer vaccines using the same technology as the Covid-19 vaccines. We’ll be hearing a lot about mRNA in the coming years.

The mRNA vaccine technology used to create the Covid-19 vaccines is the result of nearly two decades of research by scientists in many fields, including cancer, and now researchers are hoping to apply the technology to cancer vaccines, reports medicalxpress.com. The mRNA technology is flexible and versatile, and that makes it ideal for treating many diseases. For example, in Covid-19 vaccines, the mRNA works as a protective measure fighting off invading cells, but as a cancer vaccine, mRNA works more as a treatment. It works by motivating T cells to kill cancer cells, similar to how immunotherapy works. Like immunotherapy, the mRNA vaccines would need to be personalized to each patient, and that could be a challenge in the development of the vaccines. Despite any challenges, clinical trials for mRNA cancer vaccines are already underway. Learn more about the exciting technology here.

In addition to the prospect of new vaccines, there could be a breakthrough in treating prostate cancer, reports Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center at mskcc.org. A therapy called Lu-PSMA-617 has been developed to attach to and kill the cancer cell using radiation. The treatment works on cancer cells that have been resistant to other therapies, as is often the case in prostate cancer after it has spread. Lu-PSMA-617 recently received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which will help speed up the development and review of the therapy. Learn more about the promising treatment here.

What we eat and drink continues to affect our cancer risk. Researchers may have identified the connection between diets rich in red meat and colorectal cancer, reports medicalxpress.com. While experts have long advised against eating red meat to prevent colorectal cancer, there was no definite proof of a connection between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. However, researchers have now discovered that there are specific patterns of DNA damage, called alkylation, caused by eating a lot of red meat. Learn more about the findings here.

While you are avoiding red meat, you can fill up on coffee. Drinking three to four cups of coffee a day could reduce your risk of liver cancer and other liver diseases, reports usatoday.com. The authors of a study in the United Kingdom say that they can’t definitively prove that coffee lowers the risk of liver disease, but there was a noticeable reduction in liver-related disease among coffee drinkers. Researchers advised that people should follow healthy practices like eating well and exercising in addition to drinking coffee. Also, don’t overdo it. The study found that any more than three to four cups a day did not provide additional benefits. Learn more here.

We continue to have a lot to learn from the animal kingdom. A gecko named Mr. Frosty could be the key to finding treatment for skin cancer, reports sciencenews.org. Mr. Frosty is a Lemon Frost gecko, a type particularly prone to tumors. Researchers collected DNA from Mr. Frosty and many other lizards and were able to use the data to link tumor growth to a gene called SPINT1. The gene has also been linked to melanoma in humans, which could mean that Lemon Frost geckos could be used to research treatments for skin cancer. Learn more about Mr. Frosty here.

Genetically engineered mice provide a great research model for humans. Scientists have developed a new technique to determine which cancer research models are the most similar to cancer cells that grow in humans, reports sciencedaily.com, and the most similar are genetically engineered mice and 3D balls of human tissue called tumoroids. The technique, called CancerCellNet, is computer based and compares RNA sequences of a research model with data from a cancer genome atlas to determine how well the two match. The mice and the tumoroids were the closest match in four out of every five tumor types tested. Researchers found that human cancer cells grown in culture dishes are the least similar. Learn more here.

Lobsters seem to age better than anything on the planet. Scientists are studying lobsters to see if their longevity and ability to stay mostly cancer free can provide answers for humans about aging and disease prevention, reports sciencemag.org. Lobsters live up to 100 years in the wild, do not lose strength or fertility with age, and they very rarely get cancer. While the complete set of lobster genes is so long that researchers are still uncovering it, they are hopeful that more research could provide insight into how lobsters stay cancer free and how humans may be able to benefit from the information. Learn more here.


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September 2020 Notable News

There’s a lot to learn this month. Cancer researchers have been busy as bees developing innovative treatments, creating new diagnostic blood tests, and uncovering new information to protect patients. However, it is actual bees that just may save the day.

Prostate Cancer Awareness

Before we get to the bees, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that September is prostate cancer awareness month. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men and while most men who get prostate cancer won’t die from it, it can be a serious disease. Fortunately, over the summer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two drugs to treat patients whose prostate cancer has metastasized or stopped responding to treatment, says cancer.gov. The drugs, olaparib and rucaparib, are targeted therapies taken as pills. The drugs work by blocking the activity of a protein known as PARP and have proven effective in treating advanced cases of prostate cancer and increasing survival rates. You can learn more about the drugs here and here.

Cancer Screenings

Another thing to be aware of this month is that not all cancer screenings are necessary, especially among older adults, reports healthline.com. When you reach a certain age, screenings are no longer recommended. For example, you may not need colorectal screenings after age 75, cervical cancer screenings after age 65, and breast cancer screenings after age 74. Once you have aged out of the recommended timelines, screenings can pose a risk of over-diagnosis, which is when asymptomatic cancer that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and not caused a problem is diagnosed and treated unnecessarily leading to a reduced quality of life with little to no benefit. Researchers found that 73 percent of women were over screened for breast cancer, 45 percent were over screened for cervical cancer and 59 percent of men and 56 percent of women were over screened for colorectal cancer. Older adults should talk to their doctors about whether cancer screenings are right for them. You can read more here.

Of course, when it comes to diagnosing some cancers, such as lung and pancreatic cancer, the more screening the better and researchers are finding new ways to make diagnosis easier. A blood test for lung cancer was developed by Resolution Bioscience and will be offered by LabCorp, according to fiercebiotech.com. The test searches for non-small cell lung cancer and is being studied in an ongoing trial. Learn more about the blood test here.

Cancer Testing and Treatment

Researchers are also using a blood test to check for pancreatic cancer and may have found a way to detect it early when it is treatable, reports technologynetworks.com. Using biological information found in the bloodstream researchers can determine whether the pancreas is healthy or shows signs of cancer. Because symptoms for pancreatic cancer don’t often appear until the disease has progressed it is often detected late and when treatment is less effective. Find more information about this new promising testing here.

If all this testing does result in a cancer diagnosis, it’s encouraging to know that new, more effective treatments are being discovered all the time. Researchers have now found a way to make cancer cells self-destruct, reports phys.org. They have developed a new approach that turns a nanoparticle into what they are calling a Trojan horse. The nanoparticle is coated with an amino acid that cancer cells need to survive and grow. Thanks to the coating, the nanoparticle can get into the cancer cells where it stimulates a reactive molecule that causes the cells to destroy themselves but doesn’t affect the healthy cells. The process has been successful in lab experiments and in reducing tumor growth in mice. Scientists are working to make the process more refined to target specific cancer types. Find out more here.

Honeybee Venom

Finally, here’s what all the buzz is about. It turns out that honeybee venom can be used to treat cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. Melittin, a molecule found in the honeybee venom, not only puts the sting in a bee sting, but it also wipes out cancer. Scientists do not fully understand how it works, but they have found that melittin is toxic to tumors in melanoma, lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers. Researchers are also studying how melittin affects breast cancers and have found that melittin kills the cancers cells of two of the most aggressive and hard to treat breast cancers – triple negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer. The melittin worked on the cancer cells quickly, within 60 minutes, and without harming normal cells. Interestingly, the venom from bumblebees, which does not contain melittin, did not kill the cancer cells. Learn more about how bee venom affects cancer here.

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.