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Cancer Newsletter
September 24, 2012
In this Issue
• Poorer Patients Find Thyroid Cancer at Later Stage: Study
• Gene Study Yields New Clues to Breast Cancer
• Avoiding Alcohol May Cut Risk for Esophageal Cancer
• Newly Approved Imaging Agent Helps Find Prostate Cancer

Poorer Patients Find Thyroid Cancer at Later Stage: Study

Income-based health disparity needs addressing, researchers say

THURSDAY, Sept. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Poorer people are more likely than the rich to receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis after the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage, according to a new study.

The study was scheduled for presentation Thursday at a meeting of the American Thyroid Association in Quebec City, Canada.

"Socioeconomic status is an important health indicator for a number of cancers and other diseases," the meeting's program co-chairwoman, Dr. Elizabeth Pearce, of the Boston Medical Center, said in an association news release. "These new data shed light on yet another area -- the time of thyroid cancer diagnoses -- in which there is a need to close the gap on this disparity."

Using a large thyroid cancer registry in Canada, researchers led by Dr. Stan Van Umm, of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, analyzed information on the cancer status, sex, age and socioeconomic status of nearly 1,600 patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer between January 1998 and December 2010.

Compared to younger, richer patients, older people and those with a lower average household income were more likely to receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis after it had progressed. There is, however, a 4 percent annual decline in the odds of being diagnosed with advanced thyroid cancer in old age, which suggests the disease is being detected sooner over time, the researchers said.

The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 56,000 Americans will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year, and about 1,800 will die of it.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on thyroid cancer.

Gene Study Yields New Clues to Breast Cancer

Research involving 348 tumors shows the disease is varied, but also points to treatments

SUNDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- A comprehensive look at the genetic blueprint of breast cancer has revealed new insights into the disease -- including the discovery that certain breast and ovarian tumors may be closely related.

Basal-like breast tumors -- one of the most deadly subtypes of breast cancer -- are genetically more similar to ovarian cancer than to other breast cancers, the new research found.

In this study, the scientists used six different technologies to analyze 348 tumors from women with breast cancer. They looked for defects in DNA, RNA and proteins in the tumors.

They confirmed the existence of four main subtypes of breast cancer -- luminol A, luminal B, HER2 and basal-like -- and found unique genetic and molecular signatures within each of the subtypes.

The findings add to growing evidence suggesting that tumors should be catalogued and treated based on the genes that are disrupted rather than their location in the body, the researchers said.

"With this study, we're one giant step closer to understanding the genetic origins of the four major subtypes of breast cancer," study co-leader Dr. Matthew Ellis, chair of medical oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news release.

One oncologist said the findings on breast cancer's diversity echo her own experience in treating patients.

"The diversity of breast cancer is instinctual to a practicing breast surgeon who has seen women with breast cancer, presumably the same stage, have differing outcomes with respect to recurrence and survival," said Dr. Donna-Marie Manasseh, director of breast surgery at the Maimonides Breast Cancer Center in New York City. "This research validates what we have suspected."

According to Ellis, the new study suggests that most basal-like breast tumors and ovarian tumors have similar genetic origins and potentially could be treated with the same drugs.

Basal-like tumors account for about 10 percent of all breast cancers and disproportionately affect younger and black women in the United States. Basal-like tumors include most triple-negative breast tumors, which are often aggressive and do not respond to therapies that target hormone receptors or to standard chemotherapies.

"Now, we can investigate which drugs work best for patients based on the genetic profiles of their tumors. For basal-like breast tumors, it's clear they are genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers. Whether they can be treated the same way is an intriguing possibility that needs to be explored," Ellis explained.

Another expert agreed that this type of insight moves medicine closer to a "personalized" approach to therapy.

"This research is geared toward finding ways to individualize cancer treatment," said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When treating breast cancer, we offer specific therapies that have been tested on large populations of cancer patients. However, one treatment is not necessarily good for all."

According to Bernik, "this research helps move us to the point where we will look at a tumor's genetic makeup and tailor a specific treatment that will attack the tumor cells based on the tumor's genetic fingerprint."

Manasseh said the new study "provides hope to many woman and clinicians who battle breast cancer every day."

"Breast cancer is not just one disease and, therefore, requires not just one type of therapy but rather different disease types that require specific therapies targeted for each type," she added. "Targeted therapies allow for more effective treatment of tumors, while minimizing the treatment of tumors with less effective therapies and their subsequent side effects."

The study was published online Sept. 23 in the journal Nature.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about breast cancer  External Links Disclaimer Logo.

Avoiding Alcohol May Cut Risk for Esophageal Cancer

It takes up to 16 years for former chronic drinkers to return to normal risk level, review found

MONDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Chronic drinkers who stop consuming alcohol can cut their risk for esophageal cancer in half within four to five years, according to a new evidence review.

In the analysis of nine studies, Swedish researchers found drinkers' risk of this type of cancer is reversible if they stop drinking, but it takes them up to 16 years to return to the risk level of people who don't drink.

The study by researchers at Lund University appeared in a recent issue of the journal Addiction, and included an outside commentary by a group including Boston University Medical Center researchers that found the new research "well done."

The study, however, may not have accounted enough for other factors, such as the interaction of smoking and drinking on cancer risk, according to a university news release.

Previous studies show that reducing cancer among non-smokers may be achieved with cutting back on the consumption of alcohol to moderate levels rather than quitting entirely, according to the news release. Low-level regular alcohol intake has been shown to have beneficial health effects on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other medical conditions.

Aside from alcohol, other factors that can affect the risk of developing esophageal cancer, according to the release, include:

  • Esophageal cancer is more common in men.
  • Esophageal cancer occurs most commonly in people over 45 years old.
  • The longer people smoke, the greater their risk.
  • Not eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables is linked to an increased risk of the cancer.
  • Being overweight is associated with a higher risk.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about the link between alcohol and cancer  External Links Disclaimer Logo.

Newly Approved Imaging Agent Helps Find Prostate Cancer

But not replacement for actual tissue testing, FDA says

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Choline C 11, an imaging agent used for positron emission tomography (PET) testing, has been approved to help detect recurring prostate cancer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday in a news release.

The injected substance helps produce an image that allows doctors to identify tissues to test for the disease, the agency said. It warned that PET testing was not a substitute for testing of the actual tissue.

PET testing is performed in men who have elevated blood levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a sign that prostate cancer could be present, the FDA said.

In reviewing four previously published studies, the agency said it found that "at least half" of men who had abnormalities detected in PET scans "also had recurrent prostate cancer confirmed by tissue sampling of the abnormal areas."

The FDA said side effects of the newly approved agent were limited to "an uncommon, mild skin reaction at the injection site."

The agent is manufactured and distributed by the Mayo Clinic PET Radiochemistry Facility, in Rochester, Minn.

More information

To learn more about prostate cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

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