New Blood Test Dramatically Improves Early Cancer Detection

A new blood test developed by the University of Nottingham and medical company, Oncimmune, can successfully detect cancer up to five years before a tumor is identified, according to reports.

The blood test is the first of its kind that can accurately identify biomarkers in the blood that indicate the first signs of cancer growth. The test, which has been in development for 15 years, was initially designed to improve early diagnosis among lung cancer, pancreas cancer and gullet cancer. All three of these types of cancer are notorious for being difficult to diagnose before considerable progression of the tumor.

The success behind the blood tests revolves around minute productions of antigens created by cancer cells. The production of these antigens causes an autoimmune response within the body, which results in the production of cancer-fighting agents known as autoantibodies.

Through years of trial and error, researchers have been able to identify how different combinations of these antigens within the blood signal different types of cancer. Now, the team reports that diagnoses of cancer from as little as 10 milliliters of blood are reliable enough for public use.

The new weapon against cancer, dubbed EarlyCDT-Lung, is expected to be available in the United States by the end of the month. In Britain, the blood test will be available by early next year.

Currently, a similar blood test is in the works to effectively diagnose breast cancer earlier. Those involved in the study are also hopeful that such a test could properly identify as much as 90 percent of all types of cancer.

Given that early detection is often a critical component of cancer survival, the simple blood test is seen as a paradigm shift in cancer treatment. For those at risk for lung cancer – especially cigarette smokers – the simple test has already shown dramatic results among study participants. In a number of cases, those who received a blood test either received a confirmation of lung cancer or helped reverse the previous diagnosis of a tumor nodule as non-cancerous.

Resource:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article7141460.ece

Fluorescent Molecule Helps Pinpoint Cancer Cells

A new fluorescent molecular label has been developed to aid in both the identification and surgical removal of cancer. The molecule, which was created by researchers at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), works by targeting cancer cells and subsequently tagging them with a fluorescent glow. In addition to fluorescing under near-infrared wavelengths, the molecule also boasts a magnetic marker that aids in the diagnosis of illness through the use of MRI technology.

The UCSD team reported recent studies related to the molecule in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Within the published papers, researchers indicate that the molecule allowed for a 90 percent improvement in removing residual cancer cells when compared to traditional visible light identification procedures.

Additionally, long-term survival rates of lab animals tested for the procedure increased by as much as five times.

Certainly, the new method seems to shine a light on the often-difficult task of cancer surgery. Currently, tumor removal requires a fair amount of guesswork when it comes to determining whether or not all pockets of cancer cells have been removed. In the future, surgeons may have the benefit of highlighted areas of cancer activity.

Previous efforts to pinpoint residual cancer cell deposits via fluorescence have been attempted. However, many of these alternative approaches require the use of viruses to insert a fluorescent marker. Other options have proven to fluoresce too dimly to show clearly through human tissue.

In addition to aiding the actual surgical procedure of cancer removal, pre- and post-operative processes may also be improved. Thanks to the magnetic marker within the molecule, a simple MRI can indicate the location of tumors prior to surgery. Following surgery, a follow-up MRI may indicate if any cancer cells had been missed.

One potential drawback to the procedure is the fact that matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) – the type of molecule targeted by UCSD researchers – are not expressed by all types of cancer. Additionally, MMPs are present in some healthy cells as well, which could lead to false-positive identifications of cancer cells.

Still, researchers are hopeful that the trained eye of oncology surgeons will be able to distinguish between cancerous tissue and healthy tissue. As such, the fluorescent molecule is meant primarily as a surgical aid.

Beyond the application of cancer treatment, UCSD researchers are also hoping the molecule can aid in pinpointing other health risks, such as arterial plaques that can lead to stroke and heart attack.

Resource:

http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/24667/page1/

Exposure to Toxic Asbestos – Millions of Veterans Were Affected

Use of asbestos increased significantly during and after the Second World War. This was mainly due to the asbestos manufacturing companies that mass-produced asbestos based products for use on U.S. Navy ships. This led to thousands of sailors and workers getting inadvertently exposed to lethal asbestos dust while cutting and modifying insulation products. Decades later, many of these individuals would contract asbestos-based complications and diseases.

Avoidable exposure

For around 5 decades, just before the mid-1970’s, insulation products manufactured by the asbestos industry were installed in most homes, schools, buildings, cars, planes, and ships in America. Notably, asbestos manufacturers were well aware of the long-term consequences of asbestos exposure, but they simply ignored them. The U.S. Navy came to know about the dangers of asbestos exposure only after the 1970’s. But this came a bit late for the hundreds of thousands of veterans who developed asbestos based diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis due to the unnecessary exposure.

Asbestos cancer reduced the average life span of Veterans

After serving the country and retiring from active duties, most veterans belonging to the asbestos era started a life outside the military. Most of them married, took up new careers, and raised families – without ever knowing that the type of asbestos exposure they had in the military can cruelly reduce their life span. Several decades later and nearing retirement, many of these veterans could not have the pleasure of spending their golden years in the company of family and friends.

No location was safe aboard ships

The occupational diversity recorded amongst victims of asbestos diseases is evidence to the fact that no one was immune. In many cases, even family members were affected. Although the risk of developing asbestos related diseases was more for workers deployed in fire and engine rooms, there was no safe location aboard ships, be it the mess halls, navigation rooms or the sleeping quarters. Thousands of workers deployed at dry docks and shipyards were exposed to asbestos.

Taking a “Leaky Faucet” Approach to Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatments work best when the drugs are targeted at the location of the tumor. However, it has historically been difficult to get cancer-fighting agents to infiltrate the solid mass of cancer tumors. This is partly due to the fact that high fluid pressure within the tumor reduces the ability of drugs to leak out of the bloodstream and into the tumor’s tissue.

In an attempt to improve the “leakiness” of blood vessels, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center have learned that fluid transfer from the blood stream to the tumor increases when certain molecules within blood vessels are blocked.

Specifically, the research team looked at collagen molecules located around blood vessels. Two specific enzymes within this group were found to affect leakiness of blood vessels. These two enzymes are matrix metalloproteinase 14 (MMP14) and transforming growth factor beta (TGFß).

To test the ability to alter leakiness, the team looked at reducing the activity of both molecules, as well as blocking the receptors tied to growth factor. In both cases, the result was improved leakage. Based on studies done with lab mice, it was concluded that leakage into cancer tumors was improved by about 30 percent for larger molecules when steps were taken to improve blood vessel leakage.

While smaller molecules leaked at about the same rate, blockage of MMP14 and TGFß improved the length of time that these molecules stayed within the intended tissue. As a result, this could lead to improved effectiveness and retention of chemotherapy treatments.

Though promising, a few complications need to be addressed before it can be considered for human treatment. For example, finding ways to streamline the passage of pathway inhibitors directly to the tumor tissue is a top concern. According to Ananth Annapragada, an outside researcher from the University of Texas, Houston, “Injecting the inhibitor systemically and hoping it will magically go to the right place might not work out.”

Additionally, any side effects that may result from enhancing the leakiness of blood vessels also needs to be studied before the tactic can be deemed safe for human use.

Resource:

http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/24757/page1/

Full-Field Cardiac CT Offers Improved Chance of Incidental Lung Cancer Diagnosis

A retrospective registry of patients undergoing cardiac CT scans suggests that individuals with an increased risk of lung cancer may benefit from a full-field cardiac CT scan. According to researchers at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, this is because limited-field-of-vision cardiac scans miss 89 percent of the incidental lung cancer findings that could be identified by full-field cardiac CTs.

Due to the high degree of difference between diagnosis effectiveness, the researchers recommend taking risk for lung cancer into account when choosing between a limited-field and full-field CT scan. This recommendation was reached following a review of the Bundang hospital’s database records from 2004 to 2007. This review helped researchers retrospectively determine which patient cases of lung cancer had been initially identified via cardiac CT scan.

Of all patients receiving a cardiac CT scan during that time, 0.31 percent of the scans resulted in findings of lung cancer. Patients with suspected or diagnosed coronary artery disease had a higher rate of lung cancer, at 0.43 percent.

Of the cases in which lung cancer was identified, 86 percent were eventually diagnosed as adenocarcinomas.

While the fraction of patients diagnosed with lung cancer via cardiac CT scan is small, the variance between detection from limited-view and full-view scans is quite large. According to researchers, only 11 percent of the identified lung cancers were achieved via a limited-view cardiac CT scan. In contrast, 53 percent were visible via a full-view cardiac scan and 47 percent were visible via a full-view thoracic CT scan (overlap suggests some cancer cases were identifiable by two or more screening options).

In response to the results of the study, the research team recommends the inclusion of a low-dose whole-thorax CT scan for patients who have a history of smoking and/or an increased risk for coronary artery disease.

Resources: http://www.theheart.org/article/1069819.do

http://oncolink.org/news/index.cfm?function=detail&ID=1033

How to cope with Cancer?

Most people value the care that is being provided by their health care team, but there are also those who want to play an active role in coping with their illness. Dr. Jimmie Holland, who has been involved with the care of cancer patients for nearly 3 decades now, offers some useful ideas on how to cope with cancer. These ideas have been categorized as those beliefs and attitudes that are evidently helpful (the Do’s) and those that may prove harmful (the Don’ts).

Do

  1. Rely on coping methods that may have helped you resolve problems and issues in the past. Understand that most individuals need to have family members, friends or others around them who will be able to provide the required help when needed. You need to find someone with whom you may be comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings. In case you do not wish to talk about the illness, you may notice that meditation, relaxation, listening to music, or other activities that comfort you are helpful. Use methods that may have helped you earlier, but in case what you are doing does not help, you need to find a different coping method, or seek counseling.
  2. Try to cope with your cancer “one day at a time”. Try not to think about what may happen in the future. The task of dealing with cancer is less overwhelming when you divide that into “day bites” that are easier to manage. This way, it becomes easier for you to make the most of each day, irrespective of your illness.
  3. Rely on self-help or support groups if you feel better because of them. Conversely, if any group is making you feel worse, you need to leave that group.
  4. Try to find a doctor who allows you to discuss all your concerns. Ensure that there exists a feeling of trust and mutual respect. Let them know that you want to work with them as a partner in your treatment. Talk to them about expected side effects and be ready to face them. Knowing about the problems that you may face in the future often makes it easier to deal with them as and when they happen.
  5. Explore religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, for instance prayer, which you may have found helpful in the past. In case you are not a religious or spiritual person, you can seek support from any other belief system that you may find useful. You may find them comforting. They may also help you find meaning in your present experiences related to your illness.
  6. Maintain a proper record of your doctor’s contact numbers, treatment dates, symptoms, lab values, scans, x-rays, medications, side effects and general medical status. It is important to have complete details about your cancer and its treatment and no one else can maintain such records better than you.
  7. Maintain a journal if you feel the need to express your feelings and vent your frustrations. It can help you work around your experiences and you will be surprised by how useful and therapeutic they turn out to be.

Don’t

  1. Trust the conventional thinking that “cancer equals death.” Currently, there are around 11 Americans alive who have had cancer earlier.
  2. Hold yourself responsible for causing the cancer. No scientific evidence is available which links specific personalities, painful life events and emotional status to the development of cancer. Even when you may have increased your risk of developing cancer by smoking or some other habit, it still won’t help to blame yourself or hold yourself responsible.
  3. Feel guilty when you are not able to maintain a positive outlook all the time, especially if you don’t feel alright. The belief “patients need to be positive to overcome cancer” is not true. Understand that low periods will come, irrespective of how good you may be at coping. No evidence exists to prove that those periods adversely affect your health or contribute to tumor growth. However, if they persist or become severe, you need to seek help.
  4. Suffer in silence. Try not to do everything on your own – seek support from family members, friends, doctor, nurse, clergy, or people you meet in support groups who can better understand what you may be going through. When you are around people who care about you and who constantly support and encourage you, it is more likely that you will be able to cope better and take proper care of yourself.
  5. Feel embarrassed to seek counseling support from a mental health professional for depression or anxiety that may be interfering with your sleep, eating habits, ability to function normally, ability to concentrate, or in case you think that your distress levels are getting out of control.
  6. Try to keep your symptoms (physical or psychological) and worries to yourself and choose not to share the same with the person who may be close to you. Request this person to accompany you to doctor appointments to discuss your treatment options. Research has shown that it is often difficult for people to hear or absorb information if they are feeling anxious. A family member or friend may help you recall what was said and also interpret it in a better manner. In a practical sense, your loved one or friend can also get you home after your appointment or medical test.
  7. Choose an alternative therapy in place of your regular treatment. In case you choose to use a treatment that was not recommended by your doctor, make sure you rely on those that may not be harmful. Check if the alternative treatment can be used in a safe manner alongside the standard therapies (as a complimentary treatment), in order to augment your quality of life. Make sure you inform your doctor about alternative treatments that you may be using along with your regular therapies because there are some that should not be used with radiation treatment or chemotherapy. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of alternative or complementary therapies with a person you can trust and who can analyze these therapies more objectively as compared to what you may be able to achieve under stress. Safe and helpful methods include social, psychological and spiritual approaches, and often doctors encourage patients to use them. Activities such as meditation and relaxation are safe and helpful.

Altered Versions of DNA Could Serve as Biomarker for Cancer

In the past few years, new technologies and techniques have become available that allow researchers to quickly sequence large strands of DNA at a fairly affordable cost. Recently, this breakthrough has allowed researchers at Johns Hopkins University to look at DNA mutations as a possible biomarker for cancer.

As cancer cells grow and divide, they shed small fragments of mutated DNA into the circulatory system. The team at Johns Hopkins – led by Dr. Bert Vogelstein and Kenneth W. Kinzler – hypothesized that these DNA mutations could be sequenced and identified as a possible early indicator of cancer.

The process proved time-consuming, as a broad number of DNA mutations are unique in cancer cells. As such, knowing which specific mutation would serve as the best biomarker for cancer served as a major hurdle to the team.

Despite this, the researchers at Johns Hopkins have announced the formation of a lab technique that successfully identifies DNA rearrangements caused by cancer mutation. The process works by quickly sequencing DNA fragments in the blood stream.

Though very promising, a major drawback to the process is cost. Due to the need to sequence a patient’s entire genome, the estimated price tag of testing a single patient is $5,000.

According to the team’s research, which was published in the March issue of Nature, mitochondrial DNA rearrangements may serve as more cost-effective biomarkers for cancer. The reason for this is twofold. For one, mitochondrial DNA is incredibly small compared to a cell’s main strand of DNA, with just 16,000 genome units (a cell’s nucleus has three billion genome units). For two, mitochondrial DNA mutations occur in approximately 80 percent of all cancers, making the new technique a near universal option for future cancer diagnosis.

Even with these potential cost savings, fees associated with DNA sequencing will need to drop further in order to be feasible for widespread use. Still, given the strong sensitivity of the procedure, many are hopeful for the future of DNA as a cancer biomarker. According to Dr. Vogelstein, “There is no question from a research point of view that this approach has the potential to track patients and tumors better than with the conventional approach.”

Resource:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/science/09gene.html