10 January 2019
THURSDAY, Jan. 10, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Regular exercise before and after a cancer diagnosis significantly improves odds of survival, a new study finds. Among more than 5,800 U.S. patients with a range of early- to late-stage cancers, those who exercised three or four times a week before and after their diagnosis had a 40 percent lower risk of death than inactive patients, researchers reported. But survival gains were strong even for patients who began exercising only after their cancer diagnosis. “Patients who reported never doing any type of exercise until they were faced with a cancer diagnosis cut their risk of death by 25 percent to 28 percent compared to those who remained inactive,” said first author Rikki Cannioto. She’s an assistant professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y. Patients who exercised once or twice a week also had a much lower risk of death than inactive patients, suggesting that any amount of regular, weekly activity is better than no activity, according to the researchers. Study participants had blood or head and neck cancers, as well as breast, prostate, lung, colon, kidney, esophageal, bladder, ovarian, endometrial, pancreatic, liver or stomach cancers. Others had sarcoma or cervical, thyroid, testicular, brain or skin cancers. The strongest link between exercise and reduced risk of death was seen with eight types: breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, bladder, endometrial, esophageal and skin cancer, the research team said. The results “solidify the importance of the message that when it comes to exercise, some weekly activity is better than inactivity,” Cannioto said in a Roswell news release. The finding that low-to-moderate weekly exercise is associated with improved survival is particularly encouraging, Cannioto said, given that cancer patients and survivors can be overwhelmed by the current recommendations of at least 30 minutes of daily moderate-to-intense physical activity. The study was published recently in the journal Cancer Causes & Control. More information The American Cancer Society has more on cancer patients and exercise.
08 January 2019
TUESDAY, Jan. 8, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Over the past 25 years, the number of Americans who have died from cancer has dropped dramatically, though racial and economic disparities persist, a new study reveals. Between 1991 and 2016, deaths from cancer dropped 27 percent. In real numbers, that’s almost 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. “The decline in deaths is largely driven by reductions in smoking and improved treatment, as well as earlier detection for some cancers,” said lead researcher Rebecca Siegel, scientific director of surveillance research at the cancer society. This is especially true for the most common cancers, including breast, colon, lung and prostate. But although the racial gap in cancer deaths is slowly narrowing, socioeconomic disparities are growing, she said. Poor counties in particular lag behind, and for some cancers the gap is widening, Siegel noted. “The largest gaps are for the most preventable cancers,” she said. For example, in the early 1970s, colon cancer death rates were 20 percent lower in poor counties, and today they are 35 percent higher, when compared with people living in richer counties, Siegel said. “Differences in wealth lead to differences in risk factors and less access to high-quality care for prevention, early detection and treatment,” she explained. In addition, poor people are less likely to be screened for cancer, and so cancer is likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage that makes treatment problematic. Plus, care for the poor is not as good as that given to the rich, Siegel said. Where the poor have access to screening, these disparities can be eliminated, she suggested. “We have seen this in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.,” she said. In addition, more education is called for to help people understand the steps they can take to lower their risk for cancer. “Health literacy is an issue,” Siegel said. The report was published online Jan. 8 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. According to Electra Paskett, co-program leader of the cancer control program at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, “The people who suffer the most are impacted by social determinants of health, which include where they live, their socioeconomic condition, their education, their income.” Poor people face so many problems just living day-to-day. And when they are confronted by cancer, they often don’t have the access to the latest treatments, Paskett explained. The new report noted that nearly 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 600,000 will die of the disease. But the cancer death rate has actually been dropping nearly 2 percent a year, from 215 deaths per 100,000 in 1991 to 156 per 100,000 in 2016. Between 1990 and 2016, deaths from lung cancer among men dropped 48 percent, and deaths from breast cancer among women decreased 40 percent. From 1993 to 2016, deaths from prostate cancer dropped 51 percent, and from 1970 to 2016, deaths from colon cancer plummeted 53 percent, the researchers reported. Siegel noted that “lung cancer still kills more Americans than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.” Deaths from some cancers, however, rose. For example, deaths from liver cancer increased each year among men and women. Pancreatic cancer deaths rose slightly among men. Brain cancer deaths also rose each year. Other cancer deaths on the rise are soft-tissue cancers (such as heart) and oral cancers linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). Although a vaccine for HPV is available, Paskett said, too few girls and boys are being vaccinated. The vaccine can prevent 70 percent of cervical cancers as well as many oral cancers and genital warts. Cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease, the researchers reported. But cancer is the leading cause of death in many states and among Hispanics, Asian Americans and people under 80 years of age. For cancers such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, death rates vary only slightly between the rich and poor, the investigators found. The study authors also said that cases of melanoma have been increasing, as well as cases of liver, thyroid, uterine and pancreatic cancer. Paskett pointed out that “we have made great strides. But we have a long way to go.” More information Visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute for more on cancer.
18 October 2018
THURSDAY, Oct. 18, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Lisa Hanson was first diagnosed with the leg swelling and fluid retention of lymphedema when she was just 17. Now in her 40s, she reconciled herself to a lifetime of long pants, compression hose and a nightly, hours-long bout with an electric pump to keep the swelling down. She said her lymphedema made her feel like “a freak.” But now, millions of people like Hanson may have a new treatment option. Researchers from Stanford University and other institutions conducted two new pilot studies, and report that ketoprofen, a common anti-inflammatory drug, significantly eases swelling and other skin damage from lymphedema. “For a long time I couldn’t talk to people about my lymphedema without crying because it’s something weird and obscure,” Hanson said in a university news release. “Now there is hope for people like me with this disease.” A condition affecting millions Lymphedema refers to painful fluid buildup in a limb, often after lymph node removal due to cancer treatment. The prescription medicine ketoprofen is a cousin to over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), said lead author Dr. Stanley Rockson, director of Stanford’s Center for Lymphatic and Venous Disorders. Ketoprofen is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for “chronic forms of inflammation that need an aggressive approach” such as arthritis, he said. But using it for lymphedema — which affects about 3 million people in the United States — appears to alleviate the burdensome condition, according to the small new studies. Lymphedema often results after cancer surgery (most notably breast cancer), but it can also be due to infection or other trauma, according to background notes. Lymphedema has no cure. Current treatments include compression garments, electric pumps and massage therapy to move lymph fluid manually through tissues. Rockson said ketoprofen could be an important add-on to those treatments. “What’s dramatic for me, having worked with lymphedema patients now for 30 years, is that the traditional thought about lymphedema is it progresses from fluid accumulation to progressive, structural, irreversible damage,” Rockson said. “We’re gratified to see that these supposedly irreversible results are not irreversible,” he added. Real improvement Rockson and his colleagues undertook a pair of small trials. First, 21 lymphedema patients took a 75-gram dose of ketoprofen by mouth three times a day for four months. The researchers performed skin biopsies at the start of the trial and again four months later to measure disease severity. Based on encouraging findings, the follow-up trial enrolled 34 lymphedema patients, with 16 receiving ketoprofen and 18 receiving a placebo drug. Ketoprofen recipients showed reduced skin thickness as well as improvements in other factors related to skin health and elasticity. “After a couple of months, I remember going home one day and taking my compression stockings off and looking at my leg, thinking, ‘Wow, my skin is wrinkly, that’s so weird,'” said Hanson, who took part in the trials. “The skin wasn’t so taut or thick. It was more like normal.” She stressed that in her case at least, ketoprofen is “not a cure,” but it has produced a real improvement. “Over time, the swelling has gone down,” Hanson said. “It doesn’t make it go away, but it has been easier to take care of my leg.” An ‘exciting’ new option Rockson said researchers also got the impression that patients treated with ketoprofen experienced a significant decrease in infections, though the studies didn’t specifically analyze that aspect. The drug works by blocking an inflammatory pathway in the body, he noted. Like other NSAIDs, side effects of ketoprofen can include gastrointestinal upset or bleeding. Lymphedema patients who’d like to consider taking ketoprofen should speak with their doctors and weigh their risk factors, Rockson said. “It’s certainly an option,” he said, adding he still hopes to tweak the drug’s structure to better suit lymphedema specifically in the future. “It will, for a majority of users, make lymphedema better and hopefully at least prevent progression. But there’s a list of adverse effects that need to be considered, so that needs to be an individual decision,” Rockson added. Several experts who treat patients with lymphedema praised the studies for potentially providing a new option for this group. “The lymphatic system is very complicated and there’s not a lot of research on how it functions,” said Lisa Marshall, director of oncology rehabilitation at the Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Del. “We don’t have a lot of options … as lymphedema patients get to the chronic state. So the fact that there’s now a drug that could enhance our outcomes that we could use as an [addition] to our treatments is very exciting,” added Marshall, who played no role in the new research. Dr. Shubhada Dhage is director of breast surgical services at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., and also wasn’t involved with the new studies. She said she was “highly optimistic” about the results, though small numbers of patients were tested. “How this [research] will translate and have an impact currently with lymphedema is yet to be known,” Dhage said. “If the doctors of a particular patient are on board with [prescribing ketoprofen], it might be worth trying.” The studies were published Oct. 18 in the journal JCI Insight. More information The U.S. National Cancer Institute offers more on lymphedema treatment.
03 August 2018
FRIDAY, Aug. 3, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Don’t kid yourself that using a sunless tanning product will prevent skin cancer. Unless you’re willing to stop sunbathing altogether, you’re still at risk for skin damage, researchers report. “For the most part, adults who use sunless tanning products continue to engage in risky tanning behaviors,” said study leader Matthew Mansh, a dermatology resident at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Sunless tanners include sprays, ointments, creams, foams or lotions. They’re touted as a safe alternative to outdoor sunbathing or indoor tanning. But before recommending them to his patients, Mansh wanted to know if people who use such products avoid activities that increase skin cancer risk. Apparently not, he concluded. The researchers looked at more than 27,000 adults. About 6.4 percent said they used sunless tanning products. These people were more likely to use indoor tanning beds and to have had a recent sunburn than those who didn’t buy tanning creams and lotions. They were also less likely to wear protective clothing or seek shade when outdoors, according to the study. When they zeroed in on use of indoor tanning beds, the researchers found those who applied sunless tanning products visited tanning salons more often than those who did not use the products. “Most evidence supports that sunless tanning products are safe to use and do not cause skin cancer. However, these products can only be effective at reducing skin cancer rates if they are able to help people disengage in risky behaviors such as indoor tanning or outdoor sunbathing,” Mansh said in a medical school news release. “Our study casts doubt on whether that assumption is true and suggests that sunless tanning products could inadvertently reinforce desires to achieve tanned skin,” he added. Young, white, college-educated women and gay and bisexual men were most likely to self-tan. The products were also more popular among people in the western United States and those with a family history of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. About one in five Americans will develop the disease in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The study was published July 25 in the journal JAMA Dermatology. More information The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on skin cancer.
26 June 2018
TUESDAY, June 26, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Flight attendants may face higher-than-average risks of breast and skin cancers, a new study finds — though the reasons why aren’t yet clear. Harvard researchers found that compared with women in the general U.S. population, female flight attendants had a 51 percent higher rate of breast cancer. Meanwhile, their rates of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers were about two to four times higher, respectively. The study, which included over 5,300 U.S. flight attendants, is not the first to find heightened cancer risks among airline crews. But it’s one of the largest and most comprehensive to look at the issue, according to lead researcher Eileen McNeely. What’s still unclear is why the pattern is being seen. And because it’s what’s called an observational study, it could not prove cause and effect. Flight crews have a number of exposures that could potentially play a role, said McNeely, an instructor in environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health. “There’s been a lot of speculation about exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation,” she said. That refers to radiation that comes from outer space. At flight altitudes, people are exposed to higher levels of it. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says that of all U.S. workers exposed to radiation, aircrew have the highest average levels. But no one knows for sure whether cosmic radiation is to blame for flight attendants’ higher cancer risks, McNeely said. Aircrews can also come in contact with a number of chemicals, she noted. And before smoking bans went into effect, they were habitually breathing secondhand smoke. Plus, McNeely said, flight crews deal with constant time-zone changes and irregular sleep schedules — which means many disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm, or “internal clock.” Circadian disruptions from shift work have been linked to increased risks of obesity and diseases like diabetes and heart disease. “It’s hard to tease out which of those factors might be more important than others, or whether it’s a combination of all of them,” McNeely said. However, it’s also possible that there are factors unrelated to flight attendants’ jobs, said Dr. Paolo Boffetta, a professor of oncology and environmental medicine at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, in New York City. “For example, they may have more UV [sun] exposure because of their opportunity to travel,” said Boffetta, who was not involved in the study. In addition, he said, women on aircrews may put off having children or have fewer kids, compared with other women. And reproductive factors like that are associated with the risk of breast cancer. Still, McNeely said, her team found some evidence that the longer flight attendants had been on the job, the higher their cancer risk was. Among women, the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer rose in tandem with job tenure. That supports the theory that job exposures are the culprit, McNeely said. The findings, published June 25 in the journal Environmental Health, are based on 5,366 flight attendants who were part of an ongoing Harvard study begun in 2007. They were surveyed about their health in 2014-15, when they were an average age of 52 years old. McNeely’s team compared their cancer rates with a nationally representative sample of 2,729 adults with similar demographics. Overall, 3.4 percent of female attendants had been diagnosed with breast cancer, versus 2.3 percent of other U.S. women. Meanwhile, 2.2 percent had been diagnosed with melanoma, compared with just under 1 percent of other women. The biggest difference was seen in rates of non-melanoma skin cancers — which are highly curable. Over 7 percent of female flight attendants had been diagnosed with those cancers, compared to just under 2 percent of other women. Male flight attendants had higher rates of skin cancers than other men. But the differences were not significant in statistical terms. According to McNeely, the findings will “not be news” to aircrews. They’ve long been aware their occupation may be linked to increased cancer risks. The question is, if the causes are unclear, what can be done? McNeely noted that the European Union has already taken a step — requiring that aircrews be monitored for their radiation exposure. If it reaches a certain level, their work schedules are adjusted. There are no official radiation limits for U.S. aircrews, according to NIOSH. Boffetta said that regardless of the reasons, the higher rates of skin and breast cancers among flight attendants underscore an important point: They should get recommended cancer screenings. The potential risks to flight crews bring up another question: What about passengers who fly frequently? McNeely said it’s not clear whether they face any health risks. “We study workers first, because they have the greatest exposures,” she noted. “They’re like the canary in the coal mine.” More information The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on radiation from air travel.
12 June 2018
TUESDAY, June 12, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Eating a nutritionally balanced high-quality diet may lower a cancer patient’s risk of dying by as much as 65 percent, new research suggests. The finding that total diet, rather than specific nutritional components, can affect a cancer patient’s prognosis “was particularly surprising to us,” said the study’s lead author, Ashish Deshmukh. Total diet, he explained, was one that appeared to be “balanced” and “nutrient-rich” with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins and dairy. Deshmukh is an assistant professor with the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions. To explore the impact of nutrition on cancer, the researchers sifted through data collected between 1988 and 1994 by the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Almost 34,000 people were included in the survey, which asked all participants to offer up a 24-hour diet diary. The team then used the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” as a yardstick for ranking the nutritional quality of the diets used by 1,200 people who had been diagnosed with cancer. The USDA guidelines specify serving recommendations for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, dairy, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. In turn, all 1,200 patients were then tracked for an average of 17 years, with researchers verifying all subsequent deaths — up to 2011 — through the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics Linked Mortality Files. By that point, half the cancer patients had died. But the research team found that those who had consumed the most nutritious diets overall had a 65 percent lower risk for dying — either from cancer or any other cause — than those who had consumed the worse diets. Deshmukh noted that the investigation did not assess the exact length of the survival benefit, nor did the researchers explore how exercise or other types of healthy behavior may impact cancer outcomes. Only an association was seen between diet and death risk, not a cause-and-effect link. But the researchers noted that the overall strength of the protective benefit of eating well held up even after digging deeper to look at the specific risk of dying from certain types of cancer, including skin cancer and breast cancer. “It is most critical that cancer survivors and their health care providers start talking about [a] balanced diet,” said Deshmukh. “It is also crucial that cancer survivors work with their dietitians to identify a balanced diet regimen, and then follow that regimen. “There are no harms [from] healthful eating,” he added. Marjorie Lynn McCullough is a senior scientific director of epidemiology research with the American Cancer Society. She noted that the “study had some limitations, such as not controlling for smoking, and evaluating older nutrition guidelines which have since been modified.” She was not involved with the study. But, she added, the findings are “generally consistent with growing evidence supporting recommendations to eat a healthy diet for cancer survivors.” Like the guidelines for cancer prevention, McCullough said, that means lowering the intake of sugar and empty calories by consuming “a mostly plant-based diet, including a variety of vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains, in addition to exercise and achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. “However, nutrition needs can vary during treatment, recovery and over the long term,” she cautioned, “so cancer survivors should work with their health care practitioner to tailor advice on nutrition and physical activity to their situation.” The findings were published June 12 in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum. More information There’s more on nutrition and cancer at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
26 April 2018
THURSDAY, April 26, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Many of the rescue workers who flooded the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11 now face their own private battles for survival, a pair of new studies shows. New York City Fire Department employees who worked at Ground Zero are expected to develop cancer at a greater rate than their fellow New Yorkers over the next decade, the first study found. For example, Ground Zero firefighters are being diagnosed with the pernicious blood cancer multiple myeloma years earlier than would be expected, and their cancer is more aggressive than is typical, the second study discovered. “We should continue to have cancer screening for those who were at the site, and we should have that for the next 15 to 20 years at least,” said Rachel Zeig-Owens, lead author of the first study and an epidemiologist with the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program. “We’re showing it will be valuable and necessary.” When the World Trade Center towers crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001, people were exposed to a brew of airborne toxins that included a number of known carcinogens, Zeig-Owens said. These included dangerous heavy metals, hydrocarbons and asbestos. “Think of an office building that was just pulverized, and everything that was in it,” Zeig-Owens said. “All of that is coming down, and people are breathing in that dust.” Zeig-Owens and her colleagues conducted the first study to help the World Trade Center Health Program plan its response to a possible wave of future cancer cases caused by these toxins. They estimated that in the 20 years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an estimated 2,960 new cancer cases will develop among rescue workers who responded to Ground Zero. The rescue workers are at increased risk of prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and melanoma in particular, the researchers found. The estimated cost of the first year of cancer treatment for those people will be more than $235 million over two decades, the researchers said. “The first year of treatment is the most expensive, normally, and that’s why we wanted to focus on that,” Zeig-Owens explained. A separate group of researchers undertook the second study after noting that New York City firefighters appeared to be developing aggressive forms of multiple myeloma at younger ages, said lead author Dr. Ola Landgren. He is chief of the Myeloma Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. A review of 16 cases found that “the age of onset is about 10 to 15 years earlier than the general population,” Landgren said. “We also characterized the tumors in those patients, and we showed there are features of more aggressive biology than if we compare with [the] general population.” To predict future cases of multiple myeloma, Landgren and his colleagues analyzed blood taken from 781 Ground Zero firefighters as part of a screening program. The researchers looked for a disease called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a usually benign condition in which an abnormal protein shows up in the blood. MGUS is a precursor to multiple myeloma. “Among patients who do develop multiple myeloma, they always run through a proceeding precursor state,” Landgren said. Ground Zero workers have rates of MGUS nearly twice as high as a comparison group of people from Minnesota who were not exposed to the toxins, the researchers concluded. The results of both studies were published April 26 in the journal JAMA Oncology. It’s not clear exactly how much of this cancer risk results from the World Trade Center aftermath, said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society. It’s tough to assess the direct impact of Ground Zero because firefighters typically have a higher cancer rate than average folks, said Brawley, who wrote an editorial accompanying the studies. “It’s been proven for years that firemen have a higher risk of multiple myeloma compared to the regular population,” Brawley said. “I’d love this World Trade Center population compared to firemen from Chicago or Philadelphia or Boston or Detroit, as opposed to a group of people who breathe that Midwestern unpolluted air.” Zeig-Owens agreed, noting that a follow-up study is underway that would establish a comparison group of firefighters who did not work at Ground Zero. More information The American Cancer Society has more about multiple myeloma.
15 February 2018
THURSDAY, Feb. 15, 2018 (HealthDay News) — In what researchers call a first step toward personalized vaccines for a multitude of cancers, a vaccine made from stem cells protected mice from tumors. The vaccine was composed of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) — which are adult cells that have been reverted back into stem cells. They are similar to the primitive cells found in embryos, and they have the potential to develop into any type of body tissue. Researchers have been studying iPS cells as a way to treat various diseases. The general idea is to take cells from an adult patient — from the skin, for instance — then genetically tweak them so they “rewind” into iPS cells. Those cells could then be used to generate healthy replacement tissues for those damaged by disease or injury. But it turns out that iPS cells also have similarities to tumor cells, explained senior researcher Dr. Joseph Wu, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Specifically, both iPS cells and cancer cells share various antigens — or proteins — on their surfaces. So, Wu and his colleagues decided to see if iPS cells could serve as a vaccine against cancer: If the immune system is exposed to the cells, would it be primed to recognize and attack any tumor cells that later arise? They found that, at least in lab mice, the concept worked. “This is obviously just a first step,” stressed Dr. Nigel Kooreman, who also worked on the study. No one knows if the premise will pan out in humans. The next step will be to test the approach in human cells in the lab dish, according to Kooreman, who was a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford at the time of the study. The results, published Feb. 15 in the journal Cell Stem Cell, come on the heels of another cancer vaccine study conducted by some of the same researchers. In that trial, a shot of two compounds stimulated the immune system to seek and destroy several different kinds of cancer cells — again, in mice. The hope with the latest research, Kooreman said, is to eventually create personalized vaccines from an individual’s own iPS cells that could protect against a range of cancers. “I think this is a really exciting study,” said Dr. Sasha Stanton, of the University of Washington’s Cancer Vaccine Institute in Seattle. There are, of course, many unanswered questions, according to Stanton, who was not involved in the research. Any vaccine used for cancer prevention would have to be “very, very safe,” she pointed out. With iPS cells, Stanton explained, there is always some concern that they could develop into tumors. Beyond that, she said, there will be questions about how long would any immune response from vaccination would last. Would it protect people from cancer for 20 years, or would repeat “boosters” be needed, Stanton wondered. But these initial findings are promising, Stanton said. For the study, Wu’s team used four groups of mice: In one, the animals were injected with a control solution; another received an immune-boosting substance called an adjuvant; a third group received injections of iPS cells that were genetically matched to each animal; the fourth received iPS cells plus the adjuvant. All of the animals were later implanted with mouse breast cancer cells. While those tumors grew in most of the animals, the picture was different for mice that received iPS cells plus the adjuvant: Breast tumors shrunk in 7 of the 10 animals, and two completely rejected the cancer, the researchers said. Similar results were seen when mouse versions of melanoma and mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer) were studied. What happens to the iPS cells after they are injected into the body? The immune system destroys them, Kooreman said. And before the iPS cells were infused into the animals, they were treated with radiation. That, Kooreman explained, was to prevent them from developing into tumors. Another safety concern is that iPS cells could trigger an immune response against the body’s healthy tissue. But there were no signs of that in the lab mice, according to Kooreman. “So far, in our preclinical studies of mice, it appears safe,” he said. If a preventive cancer vaccine can be developed for humans, how would it be used? At first, Stanton said, it could be used to prevent recurrences in patients successfully treated for cancer. Kooreman added an iPS cell vaccine could also potentially aid cancer treatment. He envisioned it working this way: After a patient receives an initial cancer therapy, the vaccine could be used to “reactivate the immune system to attack any remnant cancer cells.” More information The U.S. National Cancer Institute has an overview on cancer vaccines.
31 January 2018
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 31, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Could a cancer “vaccine” fight more than one kind of malignancy? A new study in mice suggests it’s possible: A shot containing two compounds that stimulate the immune system was injected directly into tumors and killed those cancer cells. Not only that, it also destroyed rogue cells from the tumors that had already traveled to other sites in the rodents’ bodies, researchers reported. What’s more, they said this approach worked for lymphoma, breast cancer, colon cancer and the deadly skin cancer melanoma. How did the researchers accomplish the feat? “We found a way to get the body to reject cancer by putting stimulants of the immune system directly into the cancer,” said study author Dr. Ronald Levy, director of the lymphoma program at the Stanford Cancer Institute in California. “The immune system can recognize cancer and kill it, but the cancer is inhibiting the immune cells. If we stimulate the immune cells, we can get them to do their job at the tumor and do the job elsewhere,” he said. So will this approach work in humans? Levy said he has no reason to believe it wouldn’t. And because the treatment is injected directly into the tumor in very small doses, side effects would likely be minimal. But Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, was considerably more cautious about the treatment’s potential. “This study had excellent results. The mice had substantial responses, and the mice lived longer. But it’s important to remember that it’s a mouse study. Lab studies in animals don’t always translate to people,” said Lichtenfeld, who had no part in the study. He noted it’s a good sign that both agents used in the new treatment are already being tested in people. Levy and his colleagues explained that as cancer begins to develop, the immune system recognizes cancer cells as foreign invaders and sends cells to attack and destroy the invader. Specifically, T-cells often infiltrate and attack cancer cells. But as the tumor grows, the cancer cells may come up with ways to suppress the activity of the T-cells, according to the researchers. This allows cancers to grow at the original site, and to release cells that allow cancer to spread to other parts of the body. The two agents used in the experimental vaccine act on the immune system in different ways, according to Levy. One makes immune system cells work better and prompts them to call in reinforcements, while the other triggers the immune cells to multiply and migrate. By injecting the two immune-stimulating agents directly into the tumor, the treatment only boosts immune cells that have learned to fight against that particular cancer. So when the immune cells leave the tumor, they only seek out cells from that specific cancer, Levy said. So far, the researchers were able to eliminate four types of cancer in the mouse study. In the majority of those cases, one treatment was enough to eliminate the cancer. The researchers expect to start a small human trial including 15 people with lymphoma soon. Levy said he imagines that this treatment would be one tool against cancer, and that it would likely be combined with other treatments to overwhelm the disease. He noted that when treatments such as surgery and radiation are combined, some cancers can already be treated successfully. Lichtenfeld pointed out that there are still a lot of unknowns about this treatment: Will it work on everyone? How many cancers might be impacted? Does it have the potential to overstimulate the immune system? The bottom line, he said, is that this is an interesting, and certainly important, study, but further research is needed. “Hopefully, this research will move forward quickly,” Lichtenfeld added. The study was published Jan. 31 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. More information Learn more about immunotherapy for cancer treatment from the American Cancer Society.