Cancer Watch - October 2003

Originally published in October 2003 icon

Cancer Watch eye

Oestrogen health warnings in USA

Following the government-sponsored Women’s Health Initiative in the USA, the FDA has decided that oestrogen containing products should carry a "black box" health warning, writes USA TODAY.

The FDA action represents a dramatic reversal of medical opinion in recent years, say the paper. Until 1998, when research started to suggest otherwise, women took either synthetic oestrogen only or mixed synthetic oestrogen/progesterone products to reduce their risk of heart disease. After only two years of the WHI study, researchers were alarmed that women taking either version had a higher risk of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. Three years further on and the mixed pill was linked to a doubling of cancer risk, the oestrogen only pill merely a 30 per cent increase(!). The oestrogen plus progesterone trial was halted and product sales have recently fallen by up to half.

The bad news is that the increased cancer risk figures are being largely ignored. The Health Warning will apply only to oestrogen-containing products for post-menopausal women, and will state that they should not be used for the prevention of heart disease. The new labelling will recommend that women taking the product for osteoporosis or vaginal dryness should consider other products.

Well, it’s a start!

Cancer virus secrets revealed.

Researchers in the Paterson Institute, Manchester have discovered precisely how the the notorious Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which plays a role in several children’s and adults’ cancers, removes a key safeguard against uncontrolled cell division.

The findings - published in the Journal of Cell Biology Vol 162(2): pg 173 -183 - bring scientists closer to understanding how the virus can cause cancer in some individuals, while leaving most of those it infects unharmed.

Scientists studied the effects of EBV infection on some of the key controls on cell division. In particular, they focused on a gene called p16, which acts as a set of brakes on growth and division and is one of the body’s main defences against cancer.

Researchers knew that EBV was able to inactivate the p16 braking system, but did not understand how the virus took effect. In the new study, they tested the effects of EBV in human cells called fibroblasts and discovered that a molecule produced by the virus, known as LMP1, has two effects.

Firstly, it acts as a bouncer, taking one of the key molecules that helps switch on the p16 gene and banishing it to the outskirts of the infected cell. When this molecule is excluded, p16 is switched off, leaving cells far more prone to dividing without control. Secondly, LMP1 sabotages the braking system, so that even when p16 is switched on and attempting to slam on the brakes, infected cells can keep on growing and dividing.

Around 90 per cent of British adults are infected with EBV. In most of us, the virus does little harm, but in a small minority it helps to trigger cancer - being associated with Hodgkin’s disease, Burkitt’s lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal cancer, plus certain rare cancers in immuno-suppressed transplant patients.

Professor Robert Souhami, Director of Clinical Research for Cancer Research UK, says: "Around 15-20 per cent of all cancers are caused by viruses, so it’s vital that we get a better handle on the role of viral infection".

Red Clover-better than soya

Red Clover, the herb of Hippocrates, has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. It’s an excellent blood purifier that gradually cleanses the bloodstream and corrects deficiencies in the circulatory system. But among classic herba lists, it is probably best known as a herb for treating cancer and is found as a central ingredient in a number of herbal anticancer formulas, including the Hoxsey formula, Jason Winter’s tea, and variants of Essiac tea.

Many US doctors, the FDA and even "new-school" herba lists, have dismissed red clover as useless in dealing with cancer. (Ed. Interestingly not Prof Trevor Powles in this monh’s article) Now researchers at the National Cancer Institute have confirmed that there are indeed anti-tumour properties in red clover. One, genistein, has the ability to prevent tumours from developing the bloodsupplies they need to survive, thus starving and killing them.

Genistein is the same biochemical considered to be the main beneficial ingredient in soy. But red clover has a significant advantage over soy, as it contains about ten times the level found in soy of all four main oestrogen isoflavones, including daidzein and genistein.

In addition to isoflavones, red clover contains another class of anti-cancer phytoestrogen compounds called coumestans, for example, biochanin and formononetin. Consuming red clover isoflavones results in higher blood levels of daidzein and genistein, moderate blood levels of biochanin, and low levels of formononetin. Soy consumption does not result in any increase in biochanin or formononetin in the blood.

New melanoma gene link

While nobody has been looking skin cancer has rocketed into second place in the UK list of cancer cases. Now scientists at St James University Hospital, Leeds, linking to other teams internationally, have shown that in 10 per cent of cases of melanoma, genes play a role. (American Journal of Human Genetics, Vol 73. No.2) The gene in question sits on a tiny part of chromosome 1 - one of the bundles of DNA containing our genes.

Inheriting a faulty version of the gene is thought to give people a much higher than average chance of developing malignant melanoma - the most dangerous form of skin cancer -and may be responsible for up to a third of inherited cases.

"Sun exposure causes damage to the skin’s DNA and accumulation of this damage can lead to cancer. Some people may inherit an increased susceptibility to melanoma and for these individuals avoiding the sun’s rays becomes even more important," says Dr Julia Newton-Bishop, part of the husband and wife team who worked on the study.

Aspirin hailed again!

Yet another study on aspirin claims it can help in even more types of cancer. lean has reported at least 10 such research trials in the last year. This one, from Cancer Research UK and presented in Nature Vol. 424 (6950):
793-796 suggests that aspirin, already under trial as a preventative agent for cancer, could also help treat certain types of the disease. Scientists again suggest that the drug’s anti-inflammatory effects could combat a family of cancers fuelled by local inflammation.

Working with Greek colleagues at the Biomedical Research Center Al. Fleming in Van, and a Dutch group at The Netherlands Cancer Institute reporting the use of aspirin derivatives against cancer cells, they have found that a rare inherited cancer called turban tumour syndrome is caused when the inflammatory response becomes rampantly over-active.

The authors plan to trial aspirin as a treatment for the syndrome, and believe it could also be effective against other forms of cancer that may possibly be triggered by inflammation, including some types of breast cancer.

Team leader Professor Alan Ashworth, of the Cancer Research UK Gene Function and Regulation Group at The Institute of Cancer Research, says: "We believe over-active, uncontrolled inflammation could be a common factor in turban tumour syndrome and a number of other cancers, where we know it plays a role, so it could be that aspirin will find a range of uses as a cancer treatment. First though we need much more information about the detailed effects of the inflammatory response in these patients.

Inflamed tissues release a host of growth factors and other molecules that may help keep cancer cells alive, so dampening down the inflammation with drugs like aspirin could be a highly effective anti-cancer treatment in some forms of the disease."

In recent months lean has reported that the Mayo clinic have researched the effectiveness of 81 mgs of daily aspirin in prostate cancer along with other studies for colon and breast cancers.

Professor Robert Souhami, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Clinical Research, says: "Even after a hundred years, we’re still uncovering new possibilities for the use of aspirin. It’s another example of the way in which basic research opens up possibilities for treatment, in this case with a cheap and readily available drug."

Growth hormone for young brain tumour patients

A 25-year study by an expert team led by Professor Steve Shalet, an international specialist in endocrinology at Christie Hospital, Manchester, has found that giving early growth hormone replacement to children treated for brain tumours can help them reach full adult height.

Brain tumours are treated with radiation which can reduce growth hormone in a child. Fifty eight patients took part in the research: all survived brain tumours as children and were treated with growth hormone therapy. They have all reached full height as adults."Our research found that the younger the patient, the worse their chances were of reaching full adult height. We also found that older children were being investigated more quickly, presumably because they had less time left to grow" said Professor Shalet. The study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that the final height of these children is improved if growth hormone is given when they are very young, in addition to when they are teenagers.

Clean water for all

The House of Lords, somewhat bizarrely, has voted to modify the water bill to exempt water companies from legal action in the future. There is probably no coincidence with the fact that fluoridation proposals to add the chemical to our water on a national scale proceed. The Ecologist has printed two strong articles on the dangers of fluoridation, which should be universally read. Meanwhile you could follow our Health Minister Hazel Blears’ advice that if you don’t like it you can buy a water filter!

Icon has negotiated a special price on a Reverse Osmosis System (the type that will take out fluoride and oestrogen from tap water). Our readers seem to have been pleased with the service and results to date.

The unit sits under the sink and provides toxin-free water for drinking, cooking and washing up. The price is shortly to rise but we have an agreement to keep the current price for our readers for a limited period.

Telephone on 0203 186 1006 for further information.

Click here to read our review on water and the filter systems available.

Cancer Watch - March-April 2004
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