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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.


Related Reading:

US Health Care & Medical Debt Statistics

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.

Notable News: January 2018

The Food and Drug Administration has approved yet another new cancer treatment, reports npr.org. Known as Luxturna it is the first gene therapy to treat an inherited disease in adults and children. Luxturna, made by Spark Therapeutics, treats a rare condition that causes blindness called retinal dystrophy by using a modified virus to carry a healthy gene into the eyes of patients. The approval of Luxturna, along with Kymriah and Yescarta, which we told you about here and here, are hopeful milestones for the advancement of gene therapies. However, it’s not all good news. There are concerns regarding the safety of some of the treatments due to some life-threatening side effects, and concerns regarding the cost of these therapies. Kymriah and Yescarta both cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and according to nbcnews.com Spark Therapeutics announced earlier this month that Luxturna will cost each patient $850,000, or $425,000 per eye. While the drug companies are saying the pricing is fair because of the risks and costs that go into developing such therapies, many patient advocates disagree. Spark Therapeutics does say they are working within the health care industry to come up with ways to make the drug accessible to those who need it. Undoubtedly, the cost debate will heat up as more progress is made and more of these types of therapies are approved. In the meantime learn more about Luxturna’s approval here and more about Luxturna’s pricing and how Spark Therapeutics plans to offset the cost here.

Developments are also being made in the early detection of cancer says cnn.com. Scientists are progressing with the development of an experimental, non-invasive blood test that could detect as many as eight types of cancer including ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophageal, colorectal, lung, and breast. The blood test is called CancerSEEK and could cost less than $500 which is about the same or less than other screenings. While promising, the blood test is in the very early or conceptual phase and is not quite ready for widespread use, but the initial findings were positive enough to justify more research and testing. CancerSeek, which combines blood protein markers and DNA markers that are then analyzed with various cancer controls, is being called groundbreaking, but there are still many factors to be considered before the test can be relied on for accurate cancer screening. The hope is that, after further testing and development, CancerSeek will be used in the future to detect cancers before symptoms appear. You can find out more here.

A more effective way to kill cancer is being developed as reported by medicalnewstoday.com. The new method would block cancer cells from accessing glutamine, which is the main nutrient tumors need to grow and spread. Glutamine is an amino acid that sustains the synthesis of protein in healthy cells, but it also helps cancer cells to divide faster. In order to keep the cancer cells from accessing glutamine, researchers have used an experimental compound called V-9302 that acts as an inhibitor to a protein called ASCT2 which carries glutamine to cancer cells. The presence of V-9302 was able to diminish the growth of cancer cells, prevent them from spreading, and eventually kill them. The process, though complex and quite technical, is innovative and very promising. You can learn more about it here.

Then there is this from theguardian.com. Author Elizabeth Wurtzel shares her perspective about having cancer in her piece titled I have Cancer. Don’t Tell Me You’re Sorry. It is a well-done, whirlwind of a read and it is full of patient power. Enjoy it here.

November 2017 Notable News

All cancer, on a very basic level, is the same. It is the uncontrolled growth of cells. However, each type of cancer varies greatly and that is why early detection and individualized treatment is so important for patient health and survival. Fortunately, research breakthroughs come along every day that help pave the way to successful, individualized treatment.

A breakthrough in breast cancer research has come from an unlikely place, reports al.com. For his winning science fair project, high school senior Kenneth Jiao researched breast cancer and made a discovery that may help stop the spread of the disease to other organs. Through his research, Kenneth discovered that the CHD7 gene and it’s molecular processes may prevent metastasis. Kenneth’s project was inspired by a breast cancer scare his mother had a couple of years ago. His mother’s tumor turned out to be benign, but the worry and fear Kenneth felt during that time motivated him to look for ways to prevent the disease. Kenneth earned a $3,000 scholarship for his win and is moving on to the final round of competition in Washington, D.C. where he could end up winning $100,000 in scholarship money. You can learn more about Kenneth and his science fair experience here.

Researchers may have found an easier way to find successful, individualized cancer treatment by experimenting on tiny replicas of unhealthy cancer cells called tumoroids, reports economist.com. The tumoroids, which were developed from the cells of eight liver cancer patients, are unique in that they contain only cancerous cells. Traditionally cultured cells are often mixed with healthy cells, which can affect the results of the genetic analysis. Along with gaining a better understanding of the cancerous cells, the research team is using the tumoroids to test anti-cancer drugs. The hope is that, eventually, replicas will be made of individual patients’ cells which will then be examined and tested to determine personalized treatment options. Find more information about the tumoroid research, here.

About 70 percent of women diagnosed with the most frequently occurring type of ovarian cancer are diagnosed with an advanced stage of the disease, but according to cancer.gov new research may help to change that. A new study reveals that the most common ovarian cancer, known as HGSOC, may begin as lesions in the fallopian tubes several years before the start of ovarian cancer, which means there is a potential for early detection. The new study supports and expands on a study done ten years ago that identified fallopian tube lesions in women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. The evidence now shows that HGSOC originates from the fallopian tube lesions whether the BRCA mutations are present or not. Not all ovarian cancers originate from the fallopian tube lesions and more research needs to be done, but there is hope for the possibility of early diagnosis and prevention. More details about the study and further research can be found here.

There are thousands of species of bacteria that live in and on our bodies and the ones living in our stomach, our stomach microbiome, may be a major factor in the risk of tumor development, according to new research reported by worldwidecancerresearch.org. The study shows a link between the microbial diversity of the stomach and varying health conditions — some cancerous and some not — and while many factors are involved in gastric cancer development, the study shows that the stomach microbiome may be one of those factors. Understanding and being able to change stomach bacteria may one day lead to the prevention or treatment of stomach cancer. Learn more about the exciting microbiome discovery here.

Check back next month for more exciting breakthroughs and in the meantime, keep up with the latest at PEN here.