Cancer Blog

Here's our collection of cancer-related stories. We sift through a variety of stories and share the issues that we think matter to cancer patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and survivors. Learn about current events in the cancer community, human interest stories, and promising technology and treatment advances. Tell us what you think in the Comments section at the bottom of each post.

Note: The information contained in this service is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in the service is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment of any illness, condition or disease.



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A Household Remedy for Cervical Cancer?

by Dana Demas

A fascinating New York Times article reports on the use of vinegar to screen for cervical cancer. Vinegar detects precancerous cells with more accuracy than a Pap smear – and at a far lower cost. The inexpensive liquid turns precancerous cells white. The spots are then frozen off before they become cancerous. The simple procedure, first developed by experts at Johns Hopkins, is called VIA/cryo.

The procedure has been endorsed by the World Health Organization and nurses around the world are being trained to perform it. In Thailand, where VIA/cryo has been widely implemented, none of the 6,000 women recruited for the first trial 11 years ago have developed cervical cancer. 

After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the number two cancer killer of women worldwide. Each year, it claims more than 250,000 lives, mostly in developing countries.




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A New Way to Find and Treat Cancer

by Dana Demas

A team of researchers at MIT has designed particles that could help diagnose and treat cancer with greater precision.

The tiny particles quickly detect a type of genetic material, called microRNA. These molecules turn genes on or off inside a cell

Each type of cancer has its own microRNA signature.

In the past, detecting RNA has been a time-consuming process. With the new, highly sensitive microarray, the particles are mixed with a blood sample. They bind to the microRNA and reveal  a pattern – what researchers call a chemical “barcode.”  

This “barcode” could help doctors screen for specific cancer risk and develop highly individualized treatment plans. MicroRNA also plays a role in diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV and cardiovascular disease.

Lead researcher Patrick Doyle plans to develop the technology for commercial use.




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Researchers Discover Ovarian Cancer Gene

by Dana Demas

British scientists have made the most significant ovarian cancer discovery in over a decade. Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in London identified a gene mutation, called RAD51D. Women with this gene mutation have nearly a 1 in 11 chance of developing ovarian cancer. Women in the general population have a 1 in 70 risk of developing the disease.

A promising new class of cancer drugs, PARP inhibitors, can target cells with the gene mutation – the same drugs are used to treat cancers related to BRCA1 and BRCA2.. PARP inhibitors interfere with DNA repair in cancer cells.

Identifying the gene could help women assess their cancer risk before they develop ovarian cancer, which is usually detected in advanced stages.

Tests to identify women at risk are expected to be available within a few years.

Read more about Ovarian Cancer and how a gynecologic oncologist may improve treatment outcomes.




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Think Happy, Be Happy

by Dana Demas

A new study finds that people who let their minds wander are happier if they think pleasant thoughts than if they think unpleasant thoughts.

Perhaps it’s true that if we “hope for the best” and “stay positive,” things do feel less overwhelming. However, this can be a difficult, almost unrealistic, expectation during cancer. Stresses come from every direction and cancer takes no prisoners – whether relationships, finances or peace of mind.

It can be helpful to set aside a time for worrying, then literally say ‘no’ when negative thoughts creep in at other times. This is a form of mindfulness training that yoga and other ancient traditions have taught since the beginning of time. The negative thoughts may not stop coming, but you can decide whether or not to engage them.

However, there is also something to be said for forgetting these thoughts entirely. The study found that people who were totally immersed in the moment, ranked the happiest of all. This idea of “flow” – of being so consumed by what you are doing that you forget about time or even to think of anything else – has also been around since ancient times.

Activities that promoted the most good feelings included, in order: sex, exercise, conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of your kids and reading.

Can you fit more of these activities into your day?



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Study Confirms No Cancer Risk for B Vitamins

by: cancercompass

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that vitamin B12 did not increase the risk of developing cancer.

"(The results) are reassuring in the sense that there were no safety concerns," Dr. Jane Armitage, lead researcher, told Reuters.

One of the study's other major focuses was to determine if vitamin B12 and folic acid treatments lowered the risk of a second heart attack.

The objective was to discover if blood homocysteine levels, which are positively associated with cardiovascular disease, could be lowered by taking the supplements.

Unfortunately, no such benefit was discovered.




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CT Scans Under the Microscope Again, Doctor Examines Risks

by: cancercompass

Computed tomography scans, commonly known as CT scans, have been making serious headlines lately. From over radiating patients to a possible link between CT scan radiation emissions and cancer development, this method used for diagnosing patients may seem to some as if it's doing more damage than good.

Rebecca Smith-Bindman, M.D., authored a 'perspective' regarding CT scan safety in an article published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

She addresses the fact that CT scans drastically transformed the medical industry, but because there is little to no regulation for this type of practice, it can put patients' safety at risk.

"No professional or governmental organization is responsible for collecting, monitoring, or reporting patients' CT-dose information. The FDA approves CT scanners, but because it has no authority to oversee the way CT tests are used in clinical practice, it collects only limited data on routine doses."

What are your thoughts regarding CT scans and the recent controversy surrounding their potential dangers?



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Study: Lumpectomy Procedure Should Change

by: cancercompass

According to a two new studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting this week, the early-stage surgical procedure to remove breast cancer cells - lumpectomy - may not need to include removing lymph nodes from underneath a patient's arms. This is a common practice if experts believe the cancer will spread.

The study claims that removing lymph nodes did not prolong recurrence of breast cancer or increase survival.

Removing underarm lymph nodes can cause Lymphedema - swelling on the side of the body, especially in the arms and hands. This swelling can become painful.

"We're now getting really good long-term survival for breast cancer," Michael Baum, leader researcher and professor at University College London, told The New York Times. "The theme is now how can we improve the quality of life for women."

A second study found that a single follow-up radiation treatment administered directly to the tumor's site after a lumpectomy is just as effective as several weeks worth of daily radiation treatments.

To learn more about the cancer featured in this post, please visit our breast cancer information page.




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Reimagine Your Mind

by Dana Demas

A foggy mind can be the result of many things – too little sleep, too much stress, poor eating habits – and the list goes on. As cancer fighters and survivors, you’re probably familiar with the mental fogginess that can accompany treatment.

Perhaps the most notorious reason for a failing mind is aging. We hear jokes about getting older and forgetting where we put the keys. All joking aside, science itself has joined the chorus of seemingly convincing evidence that we dwindle mentally as we age.

A new book, The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, by Barbara Stauch, calls into question our assumptions that middle age is the dawn of a less impressive mind. In fact, says the author in this week's New York Times Well blog, as we age, “[we] get the gist of an argument better. We’re better at sizing up a situation and reaching a creative solution. They found social expertise peaks in middle age. That’s basically sorting out the world: are you a good guy or a bad guy?”

I always like to question conventional wisdom – if the perks of the middle-aged brain can be reimagined, perhaps we can do the same for brain function after cancer?



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Patients Know Best

by Dana Demas

Do you know your body the best? Many cancer patients say they “just knew” something was wrong, before a diagnosis confirmed their fears. Once in treatment, many also experience side effects that become more distressing than the cancer itself, but are told by doctors not to worry about it.

An article in this week’s New York Times tackles these gut feelings many of us have about our health – and how the information may be getting lost in translation from patient to doctor. The reasons are many: There isn’t enough time during an office visit for an in-depth discussion of symptoms. A patient doesn’t want to complain about or doesn’t remember troubling treatment-related side effects once at the doctor. Or, some doctors simply listen to patients better than others.

With a disease like cancer, feeling in control matters. Ask yourself: Do you feel empowered to speak up about side effects to your doctor or do you keep it to yourself? Do you feel heard by healthcare providers or brushed off?



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HeLa: The Immortal Cancer Cells of Henrietta Lacks

by Dana Demas

Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31. But her cells live on to this day, from a tissue sample her doctor took. Ms. Lacks’s cells, it seems, were determined to live forever.

A new book by journalist Rebecca Skloot, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (Crown Publishers), details this fascinating story.

Nicknamed HeLa, the cells multiplied many times over and were used for research – helping develop the first polio vaccine and sold to scientists around the world.

The twist is that no one knew her cells had been donated, including Ms. Lacks, her husband or the five children she left behind.

The family was finally told about their immortal contribution to science in the 1970s. But they were never paid for the medical breakthroughs that came about because of HeLa – before or since.

What do you think? Do our cells belong to us once we’re gone? Or is progress in the name of saving lives enough?

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