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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 2019

While 2019 is nearing its end, there are all kinds of new beginnings in cancer research. Scientists are finding new and exciting discoveries that could lead to fine-tuned cancer treatments specific to each person, each type of cancer, and each response the body has to treatment. Using tropical flowers, mitochondria, and an off switch for cells, researchers keep finding new paths to treatment for even the most difficult and deadly cancers. Of course, that doesn’t mean we need to forget about prevention; there continues to be new information about how our lifestyles could affect our cancer risk, right down to our hair color.

A trip to the hair salon might mean an increased cancer risk, reports ecowatch.com. A study by the National Institutes of Health shows that permanent hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners might put women at an increased risk for cancer. The study found that women who used permanent hair color were nine percent more likely to get breast cancer. Black women, though less likely to use hair dye, had the most notable risk. They showed a 45 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer. Women who used hair straighteners had an 18 percent higher risk of breast cancer. Frequency of use posed a problem, too. Hair products can contain more than 5,000 chemicals, including formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. This study’s findings aren’t enough to draw a definitive link between the hair products and breast cancer, and no warnings have been issued about using hair products, but the findings do indicate that more research needs to be done to determine whether or not there is a connection. Read more about this study here.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just switch off a cell to prevent tumors from growing and spreading? It might be possible, reports medicalxpress.com. Researchers have discovered what could be a new cancer immunotherapy treatment for patients who haven’t responded to other types of immunotherapy. The study, done on mice, shows that many tumors display the molecule MR1, which keeps the body from fighting the cancer cells. Researchers found that when they gave the mice an antibody that blocked the MR1 cell, cancer fighting cells could come in to slow cancer growth and prevent it from spreading. With this new information, doctors would be able to screen patients to see if they have the MR1 cell, and determine if they would respond to the potential new immunotherapy. Researchers now want to apply what they’ve learned to human tumors. You can learn more about the findings here.

Another treatment-related discovery is that there might be an alarm at the molecular level that serves as an alert when cancers have become resistant to treatment, reports sciencedaily.com. Mitochondria, which are present in most cells, can sense DNA stress which can indicate when cancer cells have developed resistance to chemotherapy, researchers found. The findings could lead to new cancer treatments that would prevent chemotherapy resistance, making it more effective. See the details about this discovery here.

Also from sciencedaily.com, we’ve learned that a tropical flower might hold the answer to treating pancreatic cancer. The plant, Uvaria Grandiflora, grows in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, and its flower contains a chemical that researchers have used as a model to create three new molecules which they hope could treat pancreatic cancer. All three of the molecules have shown that they kill pancreatic cancer cells in a Petri dish, and while the potential drug trials are more than five years away, these molecules could become new drugs for treating pancreatic cancer that would be more effective and less toxic than current treatments. You can find more information here.

As you say goodbye to 2019, we hope you will continue to say hello to Patient Empowerment Network. We will continue to provide you the latest in cancer research news as we continue in our mission to empower patients, family members, and caregivers in innovative ways. We’re particularly proud of our digital sherpa™ program, which you can learn more about at voice.ons.org. Learn how the sherpas are used to enhance the experience of patients and nurses as told by Regina White, RN, MS, OCN at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. Check it out here.

Happy, Healthy, New Year to all!

Notable News November 2019

If your November was feeling hairier than normal, you or someone in your life may have been participating in No Shave November. Participants in the no-shave.org cancer awareness program stop normal shaving and grooming and donate the money they would have spent to combat hair to combat cancer instead. No Shave November has been around awhile, but in 2009 a family in the Chicago area took it to the next level when they used the tradition to start conversations and encourage donations to charitable organizations. The family-run group has raised more than $2 million and become a nationwide phenomenon. Put your razors down and click here to learn more.

Anything that can bring awareness to cancer is a good thing. The more we learn, the better equipped we are to prevent and treat the disease, and the results of a new study might be something we all want to learn about. The study, reports cancer.gov, may explain how some brain cells help spread cancer to the brain. Astrocytes are a brain cell that can activate a growth protein, known as PPAR-gamma, in cancer cells, which helps the cancer cells metastasize to the brain. Interestingly enough, in some studies PPAR-gamma stops the spread of cancer, and drugs designed to stimulate PPAR-gamma are being developed to treat some cancers. The research suggests that each microenvironment in the body could have an affect on whether or not cancer spreads. It is the brain’s fatty environment that might be the reason the PPAR-gamma proteins promote growth in the brain, but stops it in other areas of the body. Researchers are using this new information to further study metastasis, the role of astrocytes and PPAR-gamma in cancer growth and how they can be used to prevent the spread of the disease. More information can be found here.

More brain cancer research this month gives hope to treating deadly childhood brain cancers, reports medicalxpress.com. Researchers have found a drug combination that works together to kill cancer cells of the brain cancers called diffuse midline gliomas (DMG). The drugs panobinostat and marizomib worked more effectively together than they did on their own, and the studies revealed new ways for scientists to treat these cancers and other related diseases. Learn more here.

Treatment is great, but prevention should be the focus of cancer research says Azra Raza an oncologist, and professor of medicine, and director of the Myelodysplastic Syndrome Center at Columbia University, New York. In an interview with theguardian.com she discusses her book, The First Cell – And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, in which she asserts that the focus of cancer research should be on preventing cancer cells rather than destroying them. The interview and her perspective on the treatment of cancer are interesting and worth considering. You can read the interview here.

One last thing to mention this month before you run away into the hustle and bustle of December: you might want to actually run away. That’s right, sciencedaily.com reports that running is linked to a significantly lower risk of early death, and you don’t have to be a hard and fast runner to get the results. Any amount of running will do. Studies showed that any amount of running pointed to a 27 percent lower risk of death from all causes, a 30 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, and a 23 percent lower risk of death from cancer. Even people who ran only once a week or less for short periods of time at a slow pace showed significant health and longevity benefits. Get more information here, and check back next month for more Notable News. Until then, gotta run!

Notable News – October 2019

Boo! It’s October, the month of all things frightful, tricks and treats, and dressing up in superhero costume. In the news this month, there’s a super scary shortage of medication that could be a nightmare for some kids, researchers may have some tricks up their sleeves to combat chemo brain, a former NFL player is treating women to cancer screenings, and a superhero alliance has formed to take on cancer at the earliest stages. So, grab your pumpkin spice latte and read on!

The International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection formed this month, reports nature.com, and joins research teams from the United States and the United Kingdom. Just as the name implies, the group is focused on diagnosing and treating cancer in the early stages. Stanford University, Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, the University of Cambridge, the University of Manchester, and University College London make up the alliance. Advances in cancer research and imaging have made early cancer detection more possible and the alliance hopes that they can further develop testing to be more accurate, helping to improve cancer treatment and survival rates. Find out more about the newly formed alliance here.

Another superhero to many is a former NFL player who knows just how devastating breast cancer can be. Each year more than 42,000 women and men die from the disease. Helping to limit the number of breast cancer deaths is DeAngelo Williams, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Williams has sponsored over 500 mammograms since 2015, reports today.com. He lost his mother and four aunts to the disease and says he covers the cost of screenings in their honor. Williams has a nonprofit organization that pays for mammograms at hospitals in cities in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina. Learn more here.

What’s not being provided this month is the proper supply of a crucial cancer drug. The truly frightening shortage of a cancer medication is keeping some kids from getting the doses they need, reports abcnews.go.com. Vincristine is a chemotherapy medication used to treat childhood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, and brain tumors. It is a low-cost, generic medication that is now having to be rationed by doctors. As of July 2019, Pfizer is the only supplier of vincristine in the United States and has reported a shortage due to manufacturing delays. Teva Pharmaceuticals stopped supplying the drug in July. This type of drug shortage can be a matter of life or death to a child with cancer, but to the pharmaceutical companies, it may be about profitability. Drugs like vincristine don’t have a large profit margin so the companies don’t feel compelled to keep producing them. Pfizer is hustling to increase production and the FDA expects the vincristine supply to recover by January 2020, but in the meantime, there is no equivalent drug available. Learn more about the drug shortage and the children it is effecting here.

The good news is that there is no short supply of hope when great research is being done. For patients who feel like zombies thanks to chemo brain, there’s new hope for a solution in the future, reports medicalxpress.com. Scientists have discovered that there may be a link between the brain fog known as chemo brain and how harsh chemotherapy can be on the digestive system. Using mice for testing, researchers are investigating whether or not the changes to the gut microbiome during chemotherapy are causing cognitive issues. The hope is that, if there is a connection, patients could be treated with prebiotics, probiotics, and diet to help prevent chemo brain. There’s much more to be done, but the theory is promising. Learn more here.

Notable News – June 2019

It’s official! The nation’s cancer mortality rate continues to decline, says cancer.gov. The finding was revealed in this year’s annual report regarding the status of cancer in the country. The report shows that cancer death rates have continued to decline in men, women, and children from 1999 to 2016. Specifically, lung, bladder, and larynx cancers are decreasing, which is attributed to the decline in tobacco use. Conversely, cancers related to obesity are increasing. The highest overall cancer incidence rates occurred in black men and white women. The lowest rates were among Asian/Pacific Islander men and women. In addition, researchers looked specifically at cancer trends among those aged 20 to 49. In this group women had higher cancer and death rates than men, which is the opposite of the data among all age groups. Breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and melanoma were identified as the most common cancers on the rise among 20 to 49 year old women. The report, published last month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, is put together by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the North American Association of Central Registries (NAACCR). Find more detailed information about the annual report here.

The decline in cancer deaths just may have a lot to do with the amazing strides being made in understanding cancer and its risk factors, ways to diagnose it, and ways to treat it. Researchers at Yale have made a discovery about how metastasis, the spread of cancer, occurs on the molecular level that could lead to new ways of treating cancer, reports medicalexpress.com. While the study focused on renal cancer, understanding metastasis on the molecular level could lead to new testing and treatment for all types of cancer. Find more information about the study and the metastasis process here.

It’s important to know if you are at risk for certain cancers and having children through IVF may be one of them, reports thesun.co.uk. A 21-year study analyzing over 600,000 Danish women suggests that women who have had children using IVF are more likely to develop breast cancer. In addition, women who had their first child through IVF when they were 40 or older, were 65 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women of the same age who conceived naturally. The drugs given to women during IVF to stimulate the ovaries may be the culprit. They increase levels of estrogen, a known factor in the occurrence of breast cancer. Make sure you are staying on top of your breast cancer screenings if you had children using IVF, and learn more about the study here.

Also reported by thesun.co.uk, is good news about early detection, specifically for prostate cancer. Scientists have developed a simple urine test that could show signs of prostate cancer five years early. The test, which could be available in as few as five years, looks for changes in specific genes. If the changes are noted, further testing is done. The process would mean that some men would not have to have invasive testing procedures and others would know of their prostate cancer risk earlier. Learn more about the promising new test here.

Finally, of interest this month is an article by theatlantic.com regarding the two technologies that are changing the future of cancer treatment, and the way in which oncologists are looking at treating the disease. The article points to immunotherapy and CAR T-cell therapy as kindler, gentler approaches to cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, which is the most successful treatment to date, as the article points out, can make the treatment process brutal. Oncologists are turning to the new therapies to treat cancer without the harsh side effects that come with chemo. The article is a quick read and it provides hope for anyone who is or may be affected by cancer. That means all of us. Check it out here.

Notable News | April 2019

You may want to do some yoga, especially if you are experiencing chronic stress. However, you can breath a sigh of relief about the positive research in bladder and prostate cancers reported this month. There’s even some super cool research that involves containing, rather than killing, cancer cells. Check it out.

Chronic stress is not good for anybody, but as livescience.com reports, it may be even more detrimental for cancer patients. Acute stress is normal on occasion to help us avoid danger, but chronic stress, which weakens the immune system, leads to changes in the body that could then lead to the development and progression of cancer. However, experts say we can’t be so fast to draw a link between stress and cancer because of the ways different people respond to stress. Some people are motivated by it; others sickened by it. Some experts believe it may not be the stress that leads to cancer, but rather the poor habits people adopt to cope with stress. While experts don’t yet agree that there is a clear and definitive line between chronic stress and cancer, there is evidence that taking measures to reduce stress is best for overall health. Find out more here.

Speaking of stress, cancer can be stressful. Many patients turn to alternative forms of healing to manage the affects of cancer or treatment, but medicalnewstoday.com says, that may be doing more harm than good. As many as one third of people living with cancer are using alternative or complementary therapies. The most common form of alternative therapies is the use of herbal supplements, which researchers found could be a problem because the ingredients of herbal supplements are not always known, and there is a concern that supplement ingredients could negatively interact with the medicines they are taking. For example, high levels of antioxidants may make radiation less effective. Yoga, however, is the one complementary method of treatment that seemed to help patients. You can learn more about the research involving alternative and complementary therapies here, and decide whether or not those methods are right for you.

Researchers are starting to decide that maybe killing all the cancer cells isn’t the best option for combating cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. Cancer cells evolve really fast, and some studies show that there is no way of killing them all. Researchers are looking at a new approach of treating cancer that involves preventing it from developing and spreading by containing it. They hope to use medication to make the cancer cells dormant and keep them that way, which could be useful in cancers, such as breast cancer, which is now considered a chronic cancer because it can come back many years later with secondary tumors. You can learn more about this unique approach here.

Other findings this month bring good news for bladder cancer patients, reports seekingalpha.com. The FDA has approved the Johnson & Johnson drug, Balversa, for patients with metastatic bladder cancer. The approval was based on a trial that resulted in a 32 percent overall response rate. The patients who are eligible for Balversa, have metastatic bladder cancer with specific genetic alterations, but there is hope that it will eventually be tested on other types of cancers. Learn more here.

More good news comes from British scientists who have discovered 17 genes for diagnosing prostate cancer, reports dailymail.co.uk. Combined with the six genes already known to be linked to prostate cancer, there are now 23 genes that can be screened through a spit or blood test. Find more information about the research and what it means for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer here.

The not-so-good news reported this month is the increase in lung cancer among non-smokers — especially women. An in depth look at this growing issue can be found at theguardian.com here.

The ups and downs of cancer research news can be stressful for anyone, so to alleviate that stress, let’s all stay informed, and maybe take to our yoga mats. Until next month, namaste.

Notable News: Chemobrain

Sometimes the most notable information isn’t the latest research or current news story. Sometimes what is most notable is what is most pertinent to patients and survivors. So, this month when a survivor shared her struggle with “chemobrain”, it seemed like something worth looking into. Chemobrain, also called chemofog, is something cancer survivors have described for decades, says cancer.gov. For months, or sometimes years after treatment, survivors find that they struggle with their memory, paying attention, and processing information. Labeled chemobrain because so many of the survivors had chemotherapy, the actual cause isn’t completely known. For many years, patients who complained about chemobrain were dismissed, but now, the condition is widely acknowledged by the medical community. The cognitive issues can be associated with treatment of many types of cancer, but much of the research is focused on breast cancer survivors. Studies have shown that 17 percent to 75 percent of breast cancer survivors showed varying forms of chemo brain from six month to 20 years after treatment. Further research is being done to understand why some do and some don’t get chemobrain and what actually causes the cognitive issues. Chemobrain is for real; survivors who struggle with it, know that for sure. More information about chemobrain can be found here, and a top ten list of what survivors want you to know about chemobrain can be found here.

Chemobrain isn’t the only thing survivors need to consider after treatment. They need to stay healthy to lower their risk of recurrence or of getting another form of cancer. According to cdc.gov, follow-up care as ordered by your doctor is critical, but so is making healthy choices. Healthy choices include quitting smoking and/or avoiding second-hand smoke, limiting alcohol consumption, protecting your skin, eating fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, and getting a flu shot every year. More resources for healthy living after cancer can be found here.

Healthy living, research continues to show, is also critical in preventing cancer. Researchers have found a direct link between sugary drinks and the accelerated growth of tumors in colorectal cancer, reports medicalnewstoday.com. The research, done on mice, will need to be expanded before the findings can be applied to humans, but the research does suggest that consuming sugary drinks can reduce the time it takes for cancer to form. More about the study can be found here.

While you may not have been able to avoid it in the news, there is something else you might want to avoid in order to prevent cancer, reports komonews.com. A study shows that chemicals, found in the weed killer Roundup, increase the risk of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma by 41 percent. That makes the link between the weed killer and cancer stronger than was previously believed. The studies concerning Roundup and cancer continue, and more information can be found here.

There are some things about cancer that we may never understand, such as who will or won’t get chemobrain, but research continues to provide information about ways to prevent cancer, ways to live well after treatment, and ways to lower the risk of recurrence, and that is information that helps and empowers us all.

Notable News: October 2018

How tall are you? Do you eat breakfast cereal? What’s your blood pressure? Oh, and, moms, how old were you when you had babies? The answers to these questions just might be an indicator of your cancer risk. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Well, if October’s Notable News teaches us anything, it’s that strange is not so unusual, especially when it comes to cancer risks.

The mysterious workings of the human body continue to offer up surprises, and appropriately enough for October, the latest surprise is about breast cancer, according to medicalexpress.com. For some time, scientists have known that women who have babies before the age of 30 have a reduced risk of getting breast cancer later in life, but now they know the specific week in which the risk reduction occurs. Women who have babies after 34 weeks averaged a 13.6 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than did women who had no children. The risk reduction if the pregnancy ended just one week earlier was only 2.4 percent. Researchers don’t yet know what magic happens in the 34th week, but they do know that women must be under the age of 30 to benefit from it. More information can be found here.

While we’re on the subject of breast cancer, let’s talk about men because they get breast cancer, too. As Patient Empowerment Network blogger and breast cancer survivor Marie Ennis-O’Connor noted in her October 19 post, Beyond Pink: The Other Side of Breast Cancer Awareness and Lessons We’ve Learned From Each Other, breast cancer is not gender specific. While men make up less than one percent of all breast cancer occurrences, says breastcancer.org, an estimated 2,550 men in the United States have been or will be diagnosed this year. And because men are not routinely screened for breast cancer, they tend to be diagnosed when the disease is more advanced; therefore, it’s important for men to know the risk factors, which can be found here. While breast cancer awareness still focuses mainly on women, more attention is beginning to shift toward men, even making it’s way to primetime television. The series premiere of the new ABC drama A Million Little Things introduces a main male character who is a breast cancer survivor. More information about symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer in men can be found here. Please, take the time to find out if you, or the men you love, have any of the risk factors.

There’s a new risk factor to be mindful of…your height. That’s right. Your height. As reported by the guardian.com, the taller people among us are more likely to get cancer simply because they have more cells in their bodies. More cells means more opportunity for mutation. Apparently, it’s true for dogs, too. Bigger dogs, bigger risks. In humans, height seemed to cause an increased risk for 18 out of 23 cancers, including melanoma, which had a stronger link to height than researchers expected. Since there’s not much you can do about your height, researchers suggest that you focus on other risk factors instead, by maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. Learn more about how height affects your cancer risk here.

You might want to consider breakfast cereal, too, reports freep.com. There is a chemical called glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer, Roundup, that is showing up in products that are made with “conventionally grown” oats, which includes a lot of breakfast cereals. The International Agency for Research on Cancer says glyphosate is probably carcinogenic for humans, but Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, maintains the product is safe. While some experts say the information isn’t cause for hysteria, it is a good idea to pay attention to where your food comes from and what might be affecting it. You can find more about the glyphosate content in foods and which foods are affected here. It’s best to stay informed about the potential risks and use your best judgement.

The same holds true for those of you taking blood pressure medication. medicalexpress.com reports that some blood pressure medications might be linked to an increased lung cancer risk. The drugs are angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor drugs (ACEIs), and the risk is elevated for people using the medication for five years or more. Overall, the risk is low, but is notable because of how widely ACEIs are prescribed. ACEIs are very effective at treating blood pressure and, if patients have concerns about any potential cancer risks, they should consider the risks and benefits with their doctors. There is still a lot more to be learned about ACEIs and their connection to lung cancer. You can find out more here.

Whether you’re a tall person who eats breakfast and has high blood pressure or you have some other strange cancer risk, the main thing to remember when it comes to risk factors is to stay informed, because when you have knowledge, you are empowered and that’s what it’s all about.

Notable News: August 2018

The death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin received a lot of attention this month, but the cancer that killed her is in need of more awareness, say experts in a huffingtonpost.com article. The five year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is a very low eight percent. The disease often has no symptoms in the early stages, spreads early, is resistant to treatment, affects vital functions and, despite being thought of as rare, is increasing in frequency. However, there is some promising new research in the detection of pancreatic cancer (you’ll read about it in the next paragraph). Heightened awareness, funding, and research are needed to help combat this deadly disease. You can start by learning more here and, in case you missed it, you can find this month’s profile in which Alison Greenhill tells the story of her late husband’s experience with pancreatic cancer here.

The promising news is that a blood test could offer early screening for pancreatic and other cancers, according to research reported by dailymail.co.uk. In one study, scientists discovered that they can detect 95 percent of cancers through one blood test thanks to a protein produced by malaria parasites. When ten cancer cells were exposed to the protein, nine of them successfully attached to it. The test can also detect the cancers at any stage and help identify the aggressiveness of the disease. Among the cancers the test can detect are liver and pancreatic. Pancreatic cancer tends to have a low survival rate because it is often not found until the late stages of the disease. This blood test could allow for earlier detection. More can be learned about the potentially life-saving test here.

Another blood test has been found to detect melanoma with an 80 percent accuracy rate, says sciencealert.com. Caught early, the melanoma survival rate is 95 percent, but if it’s not detected early, chances for survival are below fifty percent. The test works by detecting antibodies that the body produces when melanoma forms. Currently, melanoma is detected through biopsies which are invasive and have a slightly lower accuracy rate than the blood test. The researchers hope to take the test to clinical trial and ultimately hope it will be used to detect the disease prior to biopsy in high-risk patients: those with fair skin, a lot of moles, and/or a family history of melanoma. More about this blood test can be found here. There is also a better way to determine which melanoma patients may benefit from immunotherapy. You can learn about that at axios.com here.

Another immunotherapy update comes from a recent study that may offer new insight into immunotherapy treatments, says geekwire.com. While immunotherapy has been a game-changer in treatment for many cancer patients, it doesn’t work at all for others and it can also come with some life-threatening side effects. Researchers set out to better understand the therapies and discovered how the components talk to each other in a process called signaling. It appears that the speed and strength of the signaling affect how the body responds to the treatment. It is the difference in the signaling that may help researchers find a way to reduce or eliminate the dangerous side effects and may also lead to making the treatments more effective. More information about this promising research can be found here.

As important as treatment is, keeping on top of when to be screened can be crucial to successful diagnosis and treatment. There are now more cervical cancer screening options for women aged 30 to 65, and you can learn about those at cnn.com here.

With all the positive research and advances in detection and treatment, it’s important to be aware that not all cancer patients have equal access to the best healthcare. It turns out that the disparities in minority health that we told you about here during National Minority Health month also apply to children. African American and Latino children are more likely to die from cancer, reports npr.org. Race and socio-economic status are factors. A comprehensive look at the research about the inequities in healthcare and survival rates for minority children can be found here.

Hopefully, the healthcare gap and survival rate can be narrowed because a new study shows that life is pretty good for most patients and survivors. The majority of current and former cancer patients who are 50 or older are happy, reports sciencedaily.com. The study showed that two-thirds of cancer patients fit the researchers description of complete mental health which was characterized by high levels of social and psychological well-being and being happy and/or satisfied with their daily lives. The cancer survivors were even happier with three-quarters of them meeting the complete mental health criteria. Learn more about this very happy study here.

Notable News – July 2018

There is some seriously risky business being reported in July. Meal times, diabetes, and bitter-taste sensitivity are all now being linked to a higher risk of cancer. Not to mention what researchers say the risks of complementary medicines might be.

There was another significant risk factor recently revealed, says dailymail.co.uk. A study of 20 million people conducted by Oxford University found that having diabetes increases your risk of cancer. Women with diabetes were 27 percent more likely to develop cancer and men were 19 percent more likely. The study, which included both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, showed that women with diabetes were more likely to develop leukemia and kidney, oral and stomach cancers. The men had a higher risk for developing liver cancer. Diabetes also puts people at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. You can read more about the findings and diabetes risks here.

Still another new cancer risk factor for women was reported by sciencedaily.com. It was discovered that women who have a high sensitivity to bitter taste also have a high cancer risk. The study tracked the diet, lifestyle, and health of 5,500 British women for 20 years. The women were divided into three categories of bitter sensitivity: super-tasters, tasters and non-tasters. The super-tasters had a 58 percent greater risk and the tasters had a 40 percent greater risk of developing cancer than the non-tasters. Researchers hypothesized that lower vegetable consumption would be a cause for the significant increase in cancer risk for the tasters and super-tasters, but their theory was not proved by the research. Researchers continue to suspect a relationship between diet and cancer risk and hope to further study the overall diet of the tasters and super-tasters to try to determine the connection. More details about the study can be found here.

Alternative medicine may not put you at risk for cancer, but it may increase your risk of dying from it, reports nbcnews.com. A study done by the Yale Cancer Center found that treatments commonly referred to as complementary medicine, including the use of herbs and homeopathy, aren’t harmful when used with standard, conventional cancer treatments, but if the complementary treatments are used instead of the conventional treatments, patients are twice as likely to die from their cancer. The patients who were most likely to use the alternative treatments were young, affluent women and the researchers noted that doctors should use the information from the study to make sure they are meeting the needs of their patients who may turn down standard treatment in favor of alternative treatments. Researchers also acknowledged that alternative treatments such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation can help to improve a patients quality of life and if they make the patient feel better they should be encouraged to use complementary medicine in addition to conventional treatments. You can read more here.

Make sure you aren’t at risk of missing out on the latest and most compelling cancer-related information. You can find it all here at powerfulpatients.org.

Notable News: June 2018

There’s a little something for everyone in the news this month. Immunotherapy looks promising for men; lung cancer does not. More women can forego chemo, and African Americans and Latinos have a new warning sign. Preventable cancers are on the rise, but your amount of alcohol consumption might help you change that. There’s a lot of news this month, and it’s all right here so you can pay attention and stay empowered.

Speaking of paying attention, African Americans and Latinos have a new pancreatic cancer warning sign. Recent findings show late-onset diabetes, after age 50, is an early sign of pancreatic cancer in African Americans and Latinos, according to this report from accessatlanta.com. The link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer is still unclear, but the study showed that African Americans were three times as likely to get pancreatic cancer after developing diabetes, and Latinos were four times as likely. While pancreatic cancer is rare, you should discuss your risk with your doctor should you get a late-onset diabetes diagnosis.

Another new report offers good news for women. New evidence shows that many women with breast cancer can forego chemotherapy as part of their treatment, reports washingtonpost.com. Findings from the federally sponsored, largest ever breast cancer trial indicate that women who have the most common type of early-stage breast cancer, with low and moderate risk of recurrence, don’t require chemo after surgery and won’t be subject to the often harmful side effects. The study previously showed that women with low-risk of recurrence didn’t need chemotherapy, but there was some question about those with moderate risk. After further study of patients with moderate risk, researchers determined that those who did not undergo chemo did as well as those who did. The type of cancer studied is hormone-driven, has not spread to the lymph nodes, and does not contain the HER2 protein. The findings affect more than 85,000 women per year and are expected to change the way early-stage breast cancer is treated. More information can be found here.

There’s also good news for some men. An early stage trial that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology finds that immunotherapy looks promising as a treatment for some prostate cancer patients, reports bbc.com. Unfortunately, the treatment doesn’t work for the majority of patients, with only 10 to 15 percent of patients having any response to the treatment. Researchers are hoping to determine which patients are most likely to respond. More information can be found here.

However, worldwide the news is not quite as positive. Lifestyle cancers are on the rise and increased prevention is needed, reports sciencedaily.com. Lung, colorectal, and skin cancers have all increased worldwide over the past ten years while other cancers have decreased, according to the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) study in which researchers analyzed 29 cancers and then reported their findings based on age and sex for 195 countries and territories. Lung and colorectal cancers are the leading causes of cancer deaths worldwide despite the fact that they can be preventable with such things as dietary changes and reduction in tobacco usage. The GBD also found that the United States was the third leading country in new cases of cancer per 100,000 people in 2016. Australia and New Zealand were the first and second respectively. Syria was the lowest in both new cases of cancer and cancer deaths per 100,000 in 2016. The country with the highest rate of cancer deaths per 100,000 in 2016 was Mongolia. Here you can find the full list of cancers analyzed in the GBD and where they are most likely to occur worldwide.

In other lifestyle news, your alcohol intake may be affecting your health. Less alcohol means less cancer or death, reports livescience.com. A new study reveals that light alcohol drinkers (fewer than seven glasses per week) had a lower risk of cancer and death than those who drank more alcohol or no alcohol at all. The study combines the risks of cancer and death from other causes whereas most studies pertaining to cancer risk and alcohol don’t factor in various causes of death. The combination of the two addresses the role of alcohol in overall health. More about whether or not you should put down your wine glass can be found here.

Finally, those cancers pertaining to lifestyle are often likely to come with stigmas attached to them. While most people believe lung cancer is preventable and caused by smoking, forbes.com contributor Bonnie J. Addario offers a different perspective about the stigma of lung cancer and how it has hindered research. Smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer, Addario points out. In fact, she states, 70 percent of lung cancer patients have long-since quit smoking or never smoked at all. Lung cancer, as we learned above, is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and Addario notes it is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. Perhaps it’s time we look at lung cancer differently, as Addario advocates here. It’s worth the read.

 

Spotlight on National Minority Health Month

April is National Minority Health Month. Supported by Congress with a resolution in 2002, National Minority Health Month is meant to bring awareness to the disparities in health and healthcare among minorities. Led by the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, efforts are made to understand the disparities and the reasons they occur. The 2018 theme, Partnering for Health Equity, encourages organizations to come together to find solutions that will help equalize health for all races and ethnicities. More information and resources for National Minority Health Month can be found here.

Evidence of disparities in minority health exists in all major illnesses and diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. However, the disparities, compiled by aetna.com, related to cancers, clearly emphasize the impact on people’s lives. In the United States, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival time of any other group of cancer patients. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all other groups. According to cancer.gov, African American women have a higher incidence of aggressive breast cancer. American Indian and Alaskan Natives have higher rates of kidney cancer. Hispanic and African American women have higher rates of cervical cancer and die from it more often. More disparities can be found here and here.

There are a number of reasons believed to be involved in causing the disparities in minority health. They range from socio-economic status and environment to lack of scientific data about minority groups which results in disparities even in some of the most common healthcare screenings. For example, consumer.healthday.com reports, the guidelines that determine when women of average risk should begin screenings for breast cancer come mainly from the data gathered on white women. However, researchers discovered that those guidelines could delay detection in minority women, who tend to develop the disease at earlier ages. More about the study, which emphasizes the importance of understanding how cancer occurs in people of all ethnicities, can be found here.

Another reason for the existence of disparities could be biological. Researchers are looking into the occurrence of prostate cancer in African American men, who not only have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, but they develop it at a younger age and tend to develop a more aggressive form of the disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities website, nimhd.nih.gov, researchers are studying why African American men are more at risk for prostate cancer and what can be done about it. Genetic makeup, access to healthcare, and environment are all being considered as factors. One study discovered that African American men and white men have a difference in the biomarkers that predict the aggressiveness of a prostate tumor. The study results are being tested further and expanded to look at other more factors and other biomarkers. More about the study can be found here.

There is much more to be learned about the disparities in minority health, why they exist, and how to prevent them. Increased attention and the increasing awareness of National Minority Health Month spotlights the need to eliminate the inequities in health for all races and ethnicities, which will empower us all.


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