cancer treatment

Drug Improves Long-Term Heart Health for Child Cancer Patients

Child cancer patients who have been treated with the chemotherapy drug anthracycline are three times more likely to suffer from cardiac death 30 years after treatment than children not treated with the drug. Now, a complementary drug given during the time of chemotherapy has been shown to significantly improve long-term heart health, according to researchers of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Childhood ALL Consortium.

Anthracycline is a common class of cancer drug that is used to treat everything from leukemias and lymphomas to breast cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer. In child cancer cases, anthracycline drugs such as doxorubicin are commonly associated with the treatment of such cancers as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). More than half of all child cancer patients receive treatment via anthracycline.

While often remarkably effective, anthracycline results in internal oxidation that can damage the tissue of the heart. However, the Dana-Farber study shows that patients given dexrazoxane in combination with doxorubicin maintained healthy heart function well beyond the time of treatment.

Just as important, dexrazoxane does not appear to reduce the effectiveness of anthracycline chemotherapy treatments.

These findings are based on a 15-year study led by Dr. Steven Lipshultz of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. From 1996 to 2000, he and his colleagues enlisted 205 child cancer patients to take part in the study. Over those four years, patients were split into two groups – one that received a high-dose of doxorubicin only and one that received an infusion of dexrazoxane prior to doxorubicin treatment.

For the next several years, the research team followed up with patients by monitoring their heart function with the help of echocardiograph equipment. Each patient’s heart health was compared to age-appropriate predicted measurements.

At the 5-year follow-up mark, children given dexrazoxane showed no statistically significant differences in heart function when compared to healthy peers. In contrast, patients who received doxorubicin alone were found to have significantly reduced heart function.

When looking at gender of patients, researchers report that females may enjoy greater benefits from dexrazoxane than males. This may be due to the fact that anthracycline has historically been more detrimental to female hearts than male hearts.

Previous studies have shown the short-term benefits of dexrazoxane in relation to heart health. Additional long-term follow-ups are required to further validate the efficacy and effectiveness of dexrazoxane over the long-term. Dr. Lipshultz also encourages researchers to initiate cooperative group trials that expand the study beyond the small scale.

Findings of the study were published in the September 16th online edition of Lancet Oncology. The research was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship.


cancer treatment

Scientists Say World’s First Cancer-Killing Pill May be Available Within the Decade

Thanks to advancement made possible through the Human Genome Project, British researchers believe the world’s first cancer-killing pill may be on the horizon. According to the team’s timeline, such a pill may be available in as few as ten years.

The success of this future pill will work by exploiting a specific gene flaw that is present in cancer’s DNA. In lab tests, the British team was able to show that a mutation of specific cancer cells effectively blocked the disease’s ability to repair damaged genetic material. As such, a pill or injection could potentially be made that switches on this mutation and shuts down important repair mechanisms that cause the illness to grow uncontrollably.

Since such a drug would not affect the health of normal human cells, it is believed that treatment will not only be more effective, but also result in far fewer side effects.

A research team led by Professor Ghulam Mufti at Kings College London announced the findings on October 24th. Mufti summed up the findings by saying, ìThe genetics of cancers are being rapidly unraveled. We are soon going to have a library of what genetic abnormalities lead to which cancers. If these are specific, we can target these abnormalities using new treatments.î

Many researchers not affiliated with the study agree that all cancers are moving towards a targeted treatment process. Thanks in large part to the Human Genome Project, various research teams are now identifying potential genetic markers that may eventually lead to a cure for cancer.

One of the first of such drugs is currently being tested at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre in London. This drug works in exactly the same manner as described by Mulfti ñ by altering a tumor’s cells so they cannot successfully repair DNA properly.

In early trials, the research team was able to show that breast cancer cells are killed while healthy cells are largely unaffected. The team also notes a complete lack of noticeable side effects.

Similar methods are also currently in the works for curing such illnesses as cystic fibrosis. Current medical trials that utilize gene therapy could lead to an effective cystic fibrosis treatment in as little as five years.


cancer treatment

Nanoparticles Show Promise in Combination Chemotherapy Treatment

A number of studies have shown that combination chemotherapy (using two or more cancer drugs simultaneously) can help improve treatment of some cancer types. Regulation of combination dosages has been difficult, however, due to the lack of accuracy associated with drug dissemination.

Specifically, past studies have shown that combination therapies have difficulty targeting cancer cells to deliver effective results. Now, researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) report advances in nanoparticles technology that may improve precision of dosage delivery.

In the past, nanoparticles have been used to alter cancer drugs in a way that helps them seek out and bond specifically to cancerous tumor cells. Through such engineering, the BWH team has found a way to dramatically improve the delivery of cisplatin and docetaxel in concert. Due to the physiological differences of these two drugs, combination treatments had previously proven difficult to regulate.

However, in tests performed on prostate cancer cells, the BWH team reports the delivery of precise doses for both medications. The results show promise in improving the effectiveness of combination chemotherapy on a broad scale. Since precision also allows for effective results at lower dosages, side effects felt from chemotherapy may also be reduced.

Previous nanoparticles technologies only allowed for combination treatment that involved medications that were chemically similar. This new way, however, opens the door for a wide variety of new targeted combination options.

The BWH team specifically chose cisplatin and docetaxel because they are commonly used to treat a variety of cancers. As a result, there is potential for the combination treatment to show benefits beyond the scope of prostate cancer.


cancer treatment

The Importance of Targeted Cancer Treatment

A few years ago, gefitinib was written off as an ineffective drug treatment for lung cancer. This conclusion was based on a 2004 study that found no correlation between gefitinib and prolonged lifespan among lung cancer participants. However, scientists who revisited the drug eventually found that gefitinib is exceptionally effective in treating a small minority of lung cancer patients.

Through additional research, scientists were able to determine that individuals who harbored a lung cancer tumor that exhibited a specific mutant form of EGFR (epithelial growth factor receptor) responded well to gefitinib. As a result, the drug currently serves as a viable treatment option for a select group of patients.

This example is just one of several that shows the importance of targeted cancer treatment. While past treatment philosophies have focused on treating all individuals with a specific type of cancer in the same way, new research shows that a variety of cancer subsets within a cancer type are more susceptible to certain types of treatment.

This shift in cancer treatment has been in the works for several years. Unfortunately, success stories have been slow to materialize. According to experts such as MIT professor Michael Yaffe, one reason for this is the breakdown in communication between cancer biologists who identify mutations and doctors in the clinic who put such knowledge to application.

As Yaffe explains, “We need a better translational mechanism for being able to take the things we discover here at MIT and elsewhere, and test them directly in large clinical trials. That’s sort of a bottleneck that I think everyone is aware of.”

Despite such hurdles as this, a handful of landmark targeted cancer treatments have already been identified. Most notably is the success of Gleevec, a drug that has single-handedly made CML (a rare type of leukemia) a manageable chronic illness.

Currently, breast cancer is one of the few cancer types to be routinely screened for specific genetic mutations. This is because the presence of specific mutations may indicate whether or not Herceptin will serve as an effective treatment. However, many scientists foresee a future in which all cancer patients receive a comprehensive screening immediately following diagnosis.

According to Alan D’Andrea of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the purpose of such default screening would be to identify the potential benefits of conventional treatment. “If we could identify up front the patients who are not going to respond to conventional drugs, we could immediately put them on an experimental therapy.”

Before such a vision becomes a reality, however, viable pathways must be identified to target. Additionally, safe and effective drugs must be developed to attack these pathways one identified. Presently, there are a wide number of studies investigating both of these steps among a number of cancer types.


Asbestos hazards occupational safety

British Contractor Fined for Illegal Asbestos Removal

A judge at the Caerphilly Magistrates’ Court fined a building contractor £2,500 (US$3,893) for disregarding regulations governing asbestos remediation. Ron Couch Building Contracts Ltd. of Pontypool paid the fine after pleading guilty to two counts of violating the country’s Control of Asbestos Regulations. The firm was accused of taking on asbestos removal projects without a license.

According to reports, workers were replacing a boiler in a central heating unit at a private home. One of the workers was said to have detached a door containing asbestos-laced insulation to make room to move the old boiler. Another contracting firm working on a nearby project had an asbestos specialist on site. The asbestos specialist noticed the door sitting outside the house, saw the asbestos and alerted authorities to the danger. The magistrate also ordered the company to pay £1,250 (US$1,947) to cover cleanup costs.

Steve Richardson, who works with the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as an inspector, said that the Ron Couch project managers were “well aware” of the legal requirements surrounding asbestos removal projects. Mr. Richardson said that the firm had previously carried out a similar project involving a boiler flue. In that project, they followed the regulations on asbestos remediation and employed licensed specialists to handle the toxic insulation.

Mr. Richardson also said that the process used to remove the door exposed its edge. The door contained asbestos insulation board, also called AIB. Once the insides of the door were exposed, the asbestos insulation board inside would have been disturbed. When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, the microscopic asbestos fibers become airborne and create a health hazard. Workers who handle asbestos are required to wear protective breathing masks and special coveralls to prevent exposure to the fibers.

Scientific studies have established a link between asbestos exposure and lung disease. The most serious disorder related to asbestos exposure is pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer that targets the soft tissue surrounding the lungs. Recent reports from public health officials state that mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are the number-one workplace killer among Britons. Mesothelioma also has a long latency period, so the number of deaths from the disease is expected to rise for the next ten to twenty years.

In 2006, the HSE updated the Control of Asbestos Regulations. The new rules stated that commercial property owners must conduct asbestos assessments on their buildings. These assessments should include the likelihood of asbestos exposure and methods for any future asbestos remediation. Violators may face up to two years in prison. The successful prosecution of these violations is the latest sign that the HSE and other British agencies are getting tough on asbestos.

Asbestos was banned in Britain in 1999, but many of the country’s buildings constructed over the last century still contain asbestos. The mineral was widely used in construction applications such as insulation, fireproofing, and concrete mixing. The source mineral was cheap and plentiful. Its fibers were lightweight and could withstand extreme temperatures, which made it a highly desired material in the construction trades.