Cancer Watch - December 2003

Originally published in December 2003 icon

Cancer Watch eye

Cancer molecule identified

"Many of the processes which allow tumours to grow, and cancer cells to spread round the body are controlled by the same molecules which also help to shape the growth and development of a human embryo". So says Professor Robert Souhami, director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK.

Now Professor Peter Stern and colleagues at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester have identified a molecule (5T4) which makes embryo stem cells and cancer cells spread. Work is underway on stem cells to try to block the spreading. "We’re using the fact that 5T4 is found in cancer cells, but not in normal tissue, to design immunotherapy against it, and we are testing such systems in clinical trials" says Professor Stern.

Folic acid prevents neuroblastoma

Cereals fortified with folic acid -mandatory in Canada since 1997 - are being credited with reducing the incidence of neuroblastoma in Ontario. (Clinical Pharmacology Ther.2003; 74: 288-94).

Gideon Koren led the team at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. Researchers looked at children aged 17 and under. Since 1997 when folic acid supplementation became mandatory to reduce the incidence of foetal neurological problems, the incidence of neuroblastoma has dropped by over 60 per cent. Apparently the benefit of this vitamin has been quickly felt.

GM blood to beat cancers

Scientists at the Peter MacCallum Centre in Melbourne believe they have found a way of boosting cancer fighting immune cells.

Lead scientist Professor Trapani says that, "if you take cells from the immune system, treat them outside the body to be able to recognise the cancer and then inject them back into the body, you can produce almost 100 per cent of immune cells recognising the tumour, rather than 1 in a 1000 as is normally the case."

The technique involves removing millions of white blood cells from a patient and boosting them with cancer fighting genes. This genetic modification has been tested effectively in mice and now researchers will be concentrating on lung and breast cancers, especially adnocarcinomas, glandular tumours in the lung, breast, colon and pancreas. Human trials are expected within two years.

Red wine soothes lung diseases

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is almost always developed due to cigarette smoking and is fast becoming the world’s leading cause of death. Now Louise Donnelly from Imperial College, London has shown that an active agent in red wine, resveratrol, is not merely a good antioxidant. It can also cut the inflammatory response of the immune cells in patients with CO PD. Donnelly is now trying to prepare a drug candidate based on the antioxidant. Sadly she claims that, "resveratrol is not terribly bioavailable and even if you drink lots of red wine you are not going to get enough concentration to have an effect!"

Early diagnosis vital in lung cancer

Macmillan published a release during November’s lung cancer awareness campaign to state that early diagnosis was essential. However, the release we received didn’t say why, nor give any figures. However they have produced leaflets, posters and even beer mats to create awareness of this "fact"!

Cancer killing toxin for prostate cancer

Cancer researchers at Birmingham University and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham are pioneering gene therapy to treat prostate cancer.

The tumour is injected with a harmless virus containing a gene call ntr. Once inside the cancer cell this gene produces a particular enzyme called nitroreductase.

Next a special drug is injected into the patient to react with the enzyme and render it toxic, thus killing the cell, but leaving healthy cells completely unaffected. Professor Nicholas James has already started treatment with cancer patients and claims that this is a very safe and effective way to target cancer cells.

Green tea and prostate cancer

According to researchers from Perth’s Curtin University and Zhejiang Cancer Hospital, China, drinking green tea reduces men’s prostate cancer risk by 33 per cent.

Last year the same research group found that a cup of green tea per day reduced ovarian cancer risk by up to 60 per cent.

Phytoestrogens are Protective

"Plant, or phyto oestrogens are believed to protect against cancers such as prostate and breast cancer", says Dr Margaret Ritchie of St Andrew’s University.

Now they have produced a database on foods from 500 samples of 90 men and women, relating phytoestrogen levels to their diets. High fibre foods such as strawberries, soya bean products and lentils seem best according to the research.

The world loses an icon

Sadly, and unexpectedly, on October 17th, Dr John R Lee passed away. Dr Lee produced a number of best-selling books concerning the menopause and the correct involvement of natural hormones.

In particular he was a strong advocate for the use of progesterone in its natural form and he stood up, with evidence, against the "misguided use of HRT". (A subject we constantly report on at icon).

Dr Lee retired from his family practice in Northern California a few years ago and has since continued to write and tour the world giving speeches to women, scientists and doctors alike.

Aspirin and pancreatic cancer

Dr Mercola reports that the idea of taking a daily aspirin for heart disease prevention (various studies printed this year in ICOfl have shown its preventative effect in cancers like colon or prostate) is now refuted. He states that, "British traditional experts have now abandoned the recommendation and that studies showing women who took two or more aspirins per week for 20 years had a higher risk of pancreatic cancer."

Although the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, Dr Mercola claims that taking aspirin regularly may cause an inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis, which he says sometimes leads to pancreatic cancer.

Vaccine breakthrough for breast cancers

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington have developed a vaccine designed to fight the worst type of breast cancer. HER2-positive breast cancer is 2.5 times more likely to return than the norm.

Dr Craig Shriver took 14 women who had had breast removal and vaccinated them. None had a return of the disease during the following 18 months, yet of the 18 women on a placebo, four saw it return. Dr David Miles, a consultant oncologist at Guy’s Hospital in London hailed the results as a step forward.

Yeasts provide clues to ageing and cancer

David Gottschling (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre, Seattle) has followed yeast cells across their lifetime of 35 generations and shown that, around generation 25, the evidence of DNA damage surfaces consistently. Even in yeasts programmed to last 60 generations, the DNA changes were observed around generation 25. "There must be a switch to a higher mutogenic state, but we don’t know what it is. The cells just start to ’poop out’. It doesn’t seem to be genetic but it does have genetic consequences", he says. (Science 2003; 301: 1908-11).

Cancer risks increase in transplant patients

Swedish researchers (BrJ Cancer 2003; 891 (22-27) have shown a fourfold increased risk of cancer in people who have had transplants. In 3592 men and 2339 women studied, the biggest increases were in melanoma and lip cancer. VuIval, vaginal and anal cancers also showed substantial increases.

One possibility is that a weakened immune system encourages more viral infections.

Non-smokers and lung cancer drug

Phase II studies with 52 patients using the drug Erlotonib showed a response to treatment of 46 per cent amongst "never-smokers" with a level of 21 per cent amongst current or former-smokers.

Anastrazole and Tamoxifen fracture risk

During the first two years of using Anastrazole (Arm idex), women have an increased risk of bone fracture. After 37 months of treatment fracture rates were around 7.1 per cent for Anastrazole and 4.4 per cent for Tamoxifen. These figures were 5.9 and 3.7 per cent after 31 months.

Will sun beds be banned by councils

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has suggested that it is "inappropriate" for councils to profit from sun beds because of their link to skin cancer. The BMA has warned against sun bed use, and now research is the Journal of the National Institute of Cancer Research has claimed basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas also have links to sun lamps.

Competition amongst HPV vaccines!

Glaxo Smith Kline announced in Copenhagen at the European Cancer Conference that they too have an HPV vaccine (Merck announced theirs last year). International trials in six or seven countries will take place amongst women of 15 to 25. The vaccine must be given to women before they become sexually active.

Cancer Watch - March-April 2004
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