A New Test Could Detect Cancer Years Before Symptoms Show

Cancer research is one of the busiest fields in medical technology, and understandably so, as cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. While there are existing treatments available for cancer, these usually cause a terrible amount of strain on the body and aren’t always effective. But what if much of that could be avoided by early detection using a simple, non-invasive test? Researchers from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and genomics company Grail are close to developing such a procedure.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a technology to test for cancer years before its symptoms manifest just delivered promising results in an early-stage feasibility study. This technology, referred to as liquid biopsy, scans the blood for traces of DNA shed by tumors — or circulating tumor DNA.

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“Our findings show that high-intensity circulating tumor DNA sequencing is possible and may provide invaluable information for clinical decision-making, potentially without any need for tumor tissue samples,” lead researcher Pedram Razavi told Medical Xpress.

For the test, however, the researchers had to rely on samples of 124 metastatic lung, breast, and advanced prostate cancer cells taken from blood and tissues of patients. Scanning for 508 different gene mutations, they detected 864 genetic changes in the tissue samples and 73 percent of these were found in the blood as well.

At least one mutation was spotted in both the cancer tissue and blood samples in 89 percent of the patients, with breast cancer detection succeeding 97 percent of the time.

“Our combined analysis of cell-free DNA and white blood cell DNA allows for identification of tumor DNA with much higher sensitivity, and deep sequencing also helps us find those rare tumor DNA fragments,” Razavi explained in the interview with Medical Xpress.

This liquid biopsy is promising, so much so that Grail — which is funded by the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates — is backing it up. While this isn’t the first study to explore the potential of detecting cancer using blood tests, it’s generated 100 times more data than other sequencing techniques, the researchers told Reuters.

“It’s an important first step. We show that what we call a high-intensity approach works,” Razavi added in the interview.

World No Tobacco Day: Tobacco Isn’t Just Bad For Humans, It’s Also Killing The Environment

From cancer to heart disease and many things in between, the health effects of smoking tobacco are well known. But a new report from the United Nation’s World Health Organization tries to show how all this smoke has affected the environment.

The WHO report is being released in advance of World No Tobacco Day (which, honestly, needs a catchier name) on May 31. It looks at the agricultural impacts of cultivating tobacco and the negative consequences of manufacturing and distributing it, including the use of fossil fuels and production of hazardous waste.

It also focuses on the environmental damage caused by the immediate consumption of tobacco products, as well as “the post-consumption waste and health implications that continue to play out long after the tobacco has been smoked.”

A few key figures from WHO’s report:

• Tobacco waste contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals that pollute the environment, including human carcinogens.

• Smoke emissions from tobacco have added up to thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases going into the environment.

• Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste account for a huge amount of trash. A 2014 study found that these items make up more than 1/3 of the refuse collected during coastal cleanups. Meanwhile, nearly 2/3 of all cigarettes purchased each day end up discarded into streets, grass, water — anywhere but a trash receptacle.

“Tobacco threatens us all,” WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said. “Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices and pollutes indoor air.”

To address this threat to global development, WHO is urging governments to take control with measures like banning tobacco marketing and advertising, promoting plain product packaging, and making indoor public places and workplaces smoke-free.

Another valuable tool to fight tobacco use? Taxation: While it’s one of the least used methods, increasing tobacco tax and prices is one of the most effective tobacco control measures available, says Dr. Oleg Chestnov, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for NCDs and Mental Health

And although governments pull in almost $270 billion in tobacco excise tax revenues each year, WHO says this could increase by over 50% for an additional $141 billion simply by raising taxes on cigarettes by $0.80 per pack in all countries.

“By taking robust tobacco control measures, governments can safeguard their countries’ futures by protecting tobacco users and non-users from these deadly products, generating revenues to fund health and other social services, and saving their environments from the ravages tobacco causes,” Dr. Chan said.

We Now Have More Evidence That Fat Fuels Cancer’s Spread

Scientists have found that the cells responsible for spreading cancer around the bodies of mice have a big weakness – they need certain fats to fuel their growth.

Now a team of researchers has shown that by blocking these cells from absorbing fat they can actually stop cancer from metastasizing in mice – and they’re hoping the results might help them do the same in humans.

Metastasis is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world, but until now, scientists have struggled to understand exactly how and why cancer cells go through the energy-intensive process of splitting off, travelling through the bloodstream, and taking root somewhere else in the body.

In the past, it was assumed that sugar was cancer’s main fuel source, but a study earlier this year suggested that we’d been looking at metastasis entirely wrong – what if fat was actually driving the spread of cancer?

Now a new study adds more weight to this hypothesis.

A team of researchers identified the cells responsible for the spread of oral cancer in mice, and showed that they rely on fatty acids – including palmitic acid, a major component of common food additive palm oil – to spread around the body.

They figured this out after noticing that many of the metastasizing cells expressed high levels of a receptor protein called CD36, which helps cells absorb lipids.

High expression of CD36 has also been linked to poor medical outcomes in cancer patients, so the team decided to see what would happen if the receptor was blocked.

Incredibly, the researchers showed that when they blocked CD36 expression in a range of human cancer cells, they were able to stop the cancer from spreading altogether in mice – although it didn’t stop primary tumors from forming.

“We hypothesize that metastatic cells rely so much on the availability of certain fatty acids, that they cannot cope without them,” lead researcher Salvador Aznar Benitah told Research Gate.

“However, we still do not know the precise mechanism of why blocking CD36 results in such a strong effect on metastasis.”

While the team still has more work to do, their results so far show that the approach might also work after cancer has metastasized.

In mice, blocking CD36 with antibodies eradicated metastatic tumors 15 percent of the time, and the remaining tumors that had spread shrunk by at least 80 percent.

The study also showed that mice fed high-fat diet had more and larger tumors in their lymph nodes and lungs – which is a sign of them spreading – compared to mice on normal diets.

To be clear, this research has only been done on human cancer cells in mice, so there’s no guarantee the same thing will work in human patients.

And at this stage, no one is recommending anyone cut fats from their diets to avoid cancer spread – especially seeing as many cancer patients need high-energy diets in order to stay healthy.

But the team is working on creating antibodies that work against CD36 in humans, and hope to test them in clinical trials within the next five years.

“This is an important and exciting first step,” said Benitah. “Now that we have been able to identify these cells responsible for metastasis, we can study their behavior in much more detail.”

“Also, it opens the possibility of a new anti-metastatic therapy based on blocking the ability of these cells to uptake fatty acids,” he added.

We’re looking forward to seeing what comes of this research, because while we’re closing in on many revolutionary new treatments for cancer, being able to stop it from spreading in the first place would be incredible.

The research has been published in Nature.

Why These Doctors Are Using Light Therapy Instead Of Medicine

Red light cures acne. Amber light, sleep disorders. And don’t even get us started on violet light—studies suggest that lights on the far end of the visible spectrum may even help treat certain cancers. Welcome to the new, exciting (and occasionally dubious) world of light therapy, where bathing yourself in various hues of visible light can combat disease and forestall the effects of aging.

For years, scientists have argued that, when it comes to managing pain and treating skin conditions, a little light may help. And now a new study in the journal Brain presents strong evidence that a narrow band of green light can make migraines more manageable.

“These results are very exciting because light therapy is inexpensive, easy to access and use, and comes with few side effects,” said Raymond Lam, author of a 2015 study that found light therapy can treat clinical depression. “Patients can easily use light therapy along with other treatments.”

Light therapy has had a long and contentious history, and only recently have methods emerged that are backed by scientific studies. One of the earliest incarnations of the technique that would eventually become light therapy was known as chromotherapy—and it was utter quackery. In his Canon of Medicine, the Persian genius Avicenna described how colored lights could move or cool the blood, and throughout the 1800s, “color healers” shined light through colored glass to treat constipation and meningitis.

But chromotherapy didn’t come into its own as a dishonest medical practice until 1933, when Dinshah P. Ghadiali published his “Spectrochromemetry Encyclopedia” and began treating patients—with disastrous consequences. “He had a theory—albeit a bizarre one—to go with his colored lights,” writes Joe Schwarcz at QuackWatch. “Every element, he said, exhibits a preponderance of one of the seven prismatic colors. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon, the elements that make up 97% of the body, are associated with blue, red, green, and yellow. In a healthy person these colors are balanced, but they fall out of balance when disease strikes.” Eventually Ghadiali was sued and in the court proceedings one witness whom he had supposedly cured of paralysis couldn’t walk, while another had a seizure in the midst of testifying that chromotherapy had cured him of seizures.

Fortunately, light therapy has come a long way since Ghadiali. Modern studies suggest that specific wavelengths of visible light—not, as Avicenna and Ghadiali thought, normal white light shining through different colored lenses—may have far-reaching applications, especially in the fields of psychiatry, sleep medicine, dermatology and pain management.

Perhaps the most celebrated form of modern phototherapy is Bright Light Therapy, which has been shown to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—a family of depression symptoms associated with changing seasons. “Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms.”

But the brave new world of light therapy makes bigger promises than that. Studies have shown that amber light, which falls somewhere on the visible spectrum between yellow and orange, can help treat sleep disorders and that orange sunglasses can cure insomnia. Studies suggest that blue and violet light, when paired with specific chemical solutions, can prevent some skin cancers and several studies have found that red light can cure severe cases of acne and reduce muscle and joint pain.

In most cases, the question is not whether light therapy works—no less than 3,000 scientific papers have been published on the subject—the question is how. In the case of depression and SAD, studies have shown that exposure to pretty much any bright light can aid in the production or uptake of serotonin, the neurotransmitter targeted by many antidepressants. And researchers suspect that amber lights encourage production of the hormone melatonin, which helps us sleep as the sun sets, while blue light prevents that action. Meanwhile, red light appears to effect our bodies at the cellular level, stimulating our mitochondria to help our skin cells fight off acne, heal wounds and reduce pain.

One of the remaining problems, however, is regulating the aggressive at-home light therapy industry, which has seized these studies to attempt to pry light therapy from doctors and bring it into our homes. Besides the fact that no studies have demonstrated that light therapy can be administered outside of a medical setting, FDA ranks most light therapy boxes as Class II medical devices, which ensures that they are safe—but says nothing about whether they’re effective. “There are a handful of office-based and at-home red-light devices being marketed to offer improvement in the appearance of aging skin, but more definitive research is needed before we can determine the effectiveness of this therapy,” dermatologist Murad Alam of Northwestern University argued in a 2011 press statement. “While lights offer technology similar to professional laser treatments, not all home devices deliver visible results.”

Scientists Say They’re One Step Closer to Universal Cancer Vaccine

Scientists are reportedly one step closer to creating a universal cancer vaccine that would cause the immune system to attack tumors like it were a virus. The breakthrough comes a couple of months after it was announced in February that the U.S. would move to test a lung cancer vaccine available in Cuba.

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University explained in Nature that they created the vaccine by taking pieces of RNA code from cancer and putting them in nanoparticles of fat, which was then injected into the blood streams of three patients with different advanced stages of cancer. The vaccine motivated dendritic cells, which basically identify the cells that should be attacked so T-cells can do so.

Patients’ immune systems responded by creating killer t-cells (which destroy cells with viruses) that attacked the cancer cells.

According to the research paper, the patients were given low vaccine doses because researchers weren’t trying to test how well the vaccine worked.

Although the three patients’ immune systems reacted when given the vaccine, research showed there was no evidence it helped see off the cancers.

For one patient, a “suspected tumor” got smaller after the vaccine. Another patient who had tumors removed was free of cancer cells seven months after the vaccination. A third patient’s eight cancer tumors (after having skin cancer that later spread to the lungs) were reportedly “clinically stable” after the vaccine.

The vaccine was also tested on mice and proved effective in fighting “aggressively growing” tumors.

The research group, led by Professor Ugur Sahin from Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg University, wrote, “[Such] vaccines are fast and inexpensive to produce, and virtually any tumour antigen [a protein attacked by the immune system] can be encoded by RNA. Thus, the nanoparticulate RNA immunotherapy approach introduced here may be regarded as a universally applicable novel vaccine class for cancer immunotherapy.”

While acknowledging that this research was a “positive step,” chief executive of Worldwide Cancer Research Dr Helen Rippon said: “More research is needed in a larger number of people with different cancer types and over longer periods of time before we could say we have discovered a ‘universal cancer vaccine’. But this research is a very positive step forwards towards this global goal.”

30-Year Study Turns Up No Link Between Mobile Phones and Cancer

For many of us born in the last 30 years, it’s hard to imagine life without a smartphone, but these gadgets are still relatively new, and scientists are continuing to gathering data on their long-term mental and physical effects.

Now the results of a new Australian study shows no correlation whatsoever between cellphone use and cases of cancer. The researchers behind the study looked at three decades of data, gathered between 1982 and 2013, and mapped phone use against brain cancer rates.

It will take more than a single study to settle the question of how healthy or unhealthy smartphones are, of course, but it’s a significant piece of evidence to consider.

As Chris Mills from Gizmodo reports, a slight increase in cancer rates in males was noted in the study, but there was no noticeable difference in females, and overall the data matches up with an earlier study on the same issue carried out in Scandinavia.

What makes the Australian report even more useful is that all diagnosed cases of cancer in the country have to be recorded by law.

“We found no increase in brain cancer incidence compatible with the steep increase in mobile phone use,” reported the researchers in Cancer Epidemiology.

While a rise in cancer rates was noted in those aged 70 to 84 over the time period in question, it began before mobile phones were in use, and the researchers think the jump is down to better diagnosis and cancer detection techniques in recent years.

In total, the records of some 19,858 men and 14,222 women were examined. If you’re interested in the rise of the smartphone – or just raw statistics in general – you might like to know that cellphone use in Australia started in 1987 and has risen to over 90 percent in the last 29 years.

As lead researcher Simon Chapman notes at The Conversation, the long time period covered means we can be more confident that there isn’t a ‘lag period’ between an increase in smartphone usage and an increase in cancer rates – if there was, we’d already be starting to see signs of it.

But with so many variables and influences on our lifestyles to consider, more research is needed to fully understand what these little gadgets are doing to our bodies and our minds.

Chapman and his colleagues also tested their data against two separate studies (from 2011 and 2015) that had pointed to links between smartphone use and an increased risk of cancer. In neither case did the predicted rise in cancer rates proposed by those two studies show up in the data collected in Australia over three decades.

So it seems we’re safe for the time being – though there’s no harm in going hands-free when you can, just in case…

Scientists Find Regular Aspirin Use Lowers Overall Cancer Risk

Aspirin has long been known to confer various benefits when it comes to health, and now a new study suggests the medication could lower people’s overall risk of developing cancer.

According to research led by scientists at Harvard University, regular use of aspirin reduces the risk of cancer in general by 3 percent, primarily due to its effects on colorectal cancer and other tumours of the gastrointestinal tract. While scientists already knew about aspirin’s impact on these particular cancers, this is the first time a study has estimated the knock-on effects on the overall risk of developing the illness.

To investigate the impact of aspirin use in a broader perspective of numerous cancers, the scientists examined two separate US studies – the Nurses’ Health Study (1980–2010) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986–2012) – containing data on almost 136,000 participants over the course of 32 years.

The findings, reported in JAMA Oncology, suggest that regular use of aspirin reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 19 percent, and the risk of any gastrointestinal cancer by 15 percent.

However, according to the researchers, there’s a range of other cancers where aspirin doesn’t have this kind of effect, making no observable impact on the risk of developing breast, prostate, or lung cancer.

When these other tumour types are taken into consideration, regular aspirin uses averages out to a 3 percent risk reduction overall – small perhaps, but definitely significant. The researchers estimate regular aspirin use could prevent almost 30,000 gastrointestinal tract tumours in the US annually.

So what’s “regular” aspirin use, as described in the study? The researchers defined it to mean taking one standard or low-dose tablet at least twice a week. In the data, the protective benefit of the medication showed after five years of continuous use, with varying dosages – ranging from half a standard tablet to 1.5 standard tablets per week, or one low-dose tablet a day.

But while we can now estimate this risk based on a large data set, the researchers are being cautious in their medical advice as it pertains to any particular person.

“We now can recommend that many individuals consider taking aspirin to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer – particularly those with other reasons for regular use, such as heart disease prevention – but we are not at a point where we can make a general recommendation for overall cancer prevention,” said epidemiologist and gastroenterologist Andrew Chan from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Our findings imply that aspirin use would be expected to prevent a significant number of colorectal cancers above and beyond those that would be prevented by screening and may have even greater benefit in settings in which the resources to devote to cancer screening are lacking.”

In other words, taking aspirin might be a good idea for lowering your overall risk of cancer, but because everybody’s different, it’s important to seek out proper medical advice. There’s no silver bullet, here.

After all, a person doesn’t develop ‘general’ or ‘overall’ tumours. They might develop a particular type (or types) of cancer, in which case the benefits of using aspirin to complement other cancer-fighting treatments and detection methods will depend very much on the individual’s body and inherent risk factors.

“At this point, it would be very reasonable for individuals to discuss with their physicians the advisability of taking aspirin to prevent gastrointestinal cancer, particularly if they have risk factors such as a family history,” said Chan.

“But this should be done with the caveat that patients be well informed about the potential side effects of regular aspirin treatment and continue their regular screening tests. Furthermore, aspirin should not be viewed as a substitute for colonoscopy or other cancer screening tests.”

Woman Creates Incredible Disney Princess Wigs Out Of Yarn For Children Battling Cancer

Cancer is the worst, but one former oncology nurse is creating something beautiful to make it a little easier for children to battle. Holly Christensen made a yarn wig modeled after Disney’s Rapunzel for a friend’s child, and she was immediately inundated with requests from other parents. She told KTVA,

“Last fall one of my friends from nursing school, I found out their daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I knew having been a cancer nurse what she was about to go through.

“It’s so precious. She’s stroking her Rapunzel hair and she’s just like, ‘Pretty soon my hair is going to grow back and I’m going to have real Rapunzel hair.’ “

Since then, the project has grown substantially, with Christensen working with individual families and four local hospitals. She also has a GoFundMe page to help offset the cost and has tons of volunteers helping her create her bits of yarn magic. As The Magic Yarn Project grows, Christensen hopes to eventually form a non-profit and partner with Make-A-Wish.

“[The recipients are] going to be really sick, and some of them won’t make it. It’s really hard, but just to see that a little bit of magic can be brought back into their life, that makes a difference for them and it makes a difference for their family.”

It’s always encouraging to see someone take a terrible situation to bring a little light to those who are suffering. Here’s hoping that this endeavor continues to grow, making kids everywhere feel like the princesses they deserve to be.

HealthMJ, An Online Community That Seeks to Educate Cancer Patients About the Benefits of Medical Marijuana

HealthMJ is an online community that provides trustworthy information and peer support for cancer (and other diseases) patients and their caretakers about the medical benefits of marijuana. The driving idea behind the organization is to empower patients with enough knowledge to approach their physicians about incorporating cannabis into their treatment plans. Founder Melissa Meyer, who lost two of her friends to the disease and battled her own health issued, used her anger to create something wonderful.

Melissa is a Georgetown Law grad with a background startups, advocacy, and health. Melissa spent much of 2010 – 2013 in the Lombardi Cancer center where she was being treated for a life-threatening blood disease. In that same period, she experienced the loss of her two closest girl friends to cancer. Her life goals include destroying cancer and helping patients improve their quality of life through alternative medicine. She does everything for HealthMJ that she can’t find someone else to do better..

UCLA PROFESSOR FINDS MARIJUANA IS SAFER TO SMOKE THAN TOBACCO

“You’ve got to hold it in your lungs longer, George.” A lot of people remember the famous comment by actor Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.

Thanks to the knowledge contained within the mind of Dr. Donald Tashkin, professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA, the statement makes more sense than ever. He has been studying weed and its effects on lungs for more than 30 years, and provided early evidence that average weed smoking does not cause lung cancer or impair lung function.

Although Tashkin does not condone taking a toke, his insightful research into the effects on the lungs of smoking of marijuana has been published in numerous publications.

“The smoke content of marijuana is very similar to that of tobacco,” explains Tashkin. “There is a higher concentrate of cancer-causing chemicals in marijuana tar, and it reaches the lungs before any other organ, so there is this idea that they are related in causing the same health issues of the lungs.”

But, he says, “Through my studies, we failed to find any positive association.” Instead, “the association would be negative, between lung cancer and the use of marijuana. The likelihood is, that despite the fact that marijuana smoke contains carcinogens, we don’t see the same heightened risks of cancers that we see in tobacco.”

Tashkin also discusses the fact that smoking marijuana, unlike smoking tobacco, does not cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Reasoning for this may be that marijuana is a potent anti-inflammatory and suppressive,” he says. But “COPD is activated by tobacco smoke and other toxic substances.”

“The other major impact of tobacco smoking on the lungs is the association between smoking tobacco and the development of destructive pulmonary disease, the third cause of death in America,” Tashkin adds.

So while the good doctor wouldn’t say this, forget your cigarette, and have a toke instead.