New Study Looks at Cancer “Alarm” Symptoms

People ignoring potential cancer symptoms

People ignoring potential cancer symptoms

A new study has taken a look at the number of people who attribute cancer symptoms to another less dangerous illness. By attributing the symptoms to a less dangerous illness, cancer diagnosis is delayed. The study, entitled “Attributions of Cancer ‘Alarm’ Symptoms in a Community Sample“, looked at potential cancer symptoms experienced by 1,724 people over the age of 50.

The researchers asked people if they had experienced any of 17 specific symptoms (that may indicate cancer) in the last three months. The questions were similar to the following:

“Have you experienced unexplained weight loss?”
“Do you have unexplained lumps on your skin?”
“Have you experienced extra tiredness or dizziness?”

The researchers found that many people ignored the possibility of cancer despite suffering a number of symptoms that could indicate cancer. From the 1,724 respondents, 53% had experienced a symptom of potential cancer, but only 20 (2%) thought cancer was a possibility. The most potential cancer common symptom was an unexplained lump, which was reported by 7% of respondents.

The paper indicates that many people ignore or are unaware of potential cancer symptoms. Early detection is crucial for many forms of cancer, particularly for older adults with a higher cancer risk.

Whitaker, K., Scott, S., Winstanley, K., Macleod, U., & Wardle, J. (2014). Attributions of Cancer ‘Alarm’ Symptoms in a Community Sample. PLOS ONE, 9(12), e114028. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114028

New Home Testing Kit for Colon Cancer

Cologard Colon Cancer Test

Cologard Colon Cancer Test

In most cases, the earlier you detect cancer, the greater your chances of survival. In recent years a number of devices have been designed to help people regularly test for cancer in their own homes. One such device is the “Cologuard” test kit that checks for the presence of colon cancer.

The test looks at human stools to ascertain if cancer related DNA is present. Colon cancer is an extremely common form of cancer, responsible for approximately 50’000 deaths annually in the United States. The most frequent test for colon cancer is the intrusive colonoscopy. Because of the intrusiveness of the test, many people delay or avoid colonoscopies, which is one of the reasons colon cancer kills so many people.

It’s important to note that this test is not a complete replacement for the colonoscopy, but a supplement to traditional testing. It may help catch the cancer earlier, if it develops between colonoscopies. But for people who avoid colonoscopies it may be the only test they perform.

The Cologuard test was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so will be available nationwide soon.

Cologard works by detecting anomalies in the DNA found in stools. The anomalies indicate the presence of precancerous growths called polyps. Traditionally, a test of this sort would be done at a laboratory. If polyps were found, it would be followed up with a colonoscopy. Adults over 50 should have their stools tested for signs of polyps every year.

Cologard is actually very accurate for finding signs of polyps. A study has found that it can detect 92% of colorectal cancers and 42% of growths. For a home test, that is a high level of accuracy.

Unfortunately, cologard has a higher than normal rate of false alarms. Cologard found false positives 13% of the time. Because a colonoscopy is suggested if a positive result is found, that could mean 13% of people have unnecessary colonoscopies. However, for people who have a family history of colorectal cancers that increase in false positives could be perfectly justified.

The unit costs about $600. Compare that to the cost of the less effective blood test at $25 a year and the more effective DNA test at $1800. It’s important to note that the DNA test only needs to be taken once every 3 years.

So it’s a tricky purchasing decision. If you are at increased risk of colorectal cancer it could be a great idea that might save your life. For other people, it’s less clear if cologard is worth the money.

It’s important to remember that colorectal cancers are extremely common in the United States and kill more than 50,000 people annually. Many people don’t get screened at all, so the cancer develops unchecked and eventually kills them. If you are hesitant about going to the doctor to have regular checkups, something like the cologard could save your life.

Genetic Testing For Breast Cancer

Protein BRCA1 Breast Cancer Risk

Protein BRCA1 Breast Cancer Risk

The role of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations in increasing breast cancer risk is now well known. More women are interested in having a test to determine if they carry the gene mutations.

Should you get tested?
The women who are most at risk of carrying the gene mutation have a family history of breast cancer. The more cancer in your family, the more important it is that you are tested. Researchers estimate that BRCA gene mutations account for between 5-10% of all cases of breast cancer. They account for 20-25% of all hereditary breast cancers.

So if your mother, aunt, sister had breast cancer or ovarian cancer, it’s important for you to get tested. If you have no family history of breast cancer, it may be unusual for the BRCA gene mutations to cause breast cancer.

Breast or Ovarian cancers before the age of 50 are also an indication of the presence of the BRCA gene mutation. So if only 1 woman in your family has had cancer, but she had it in her 30s or 40s, it’s worth getting tested. If you have a male in the family who has had breast cancer, it may indicate the gene mutation is present in your family.

Certain ethnic groups like Ashkenazi jews are more likely to carry the gene mutation also.

What will they test for?
Everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The test actually looks for mutations within those genes. There is some evidence that these kinds of gene mutations can also cause pancreatic cancer and melanoma. The test is painless and takes about 10 minutes of your time.

What happens if you have the mutation?
For young women with the mutation, they should have annual mammograms and MRIs of their breast tissue. While the chance of breast cancer developing is greater than it is for the average woman, it is not certain you will get it. There are medications you can take to reduce the risk of breast cancer, including chemoprevention. Other women opt for a mastectomy to ensure cancer never develops in their breast tissue. Most health insurance plans now cover mastectomies as well as breast reconstruction, so women maintain their appearance.

It is recommended that women who have this test get counseling before and after as it can be very emotional finding out you have this gene mutation and increased cancer risk.

New Technology to Test For Cancer With a Single Drop of Blood

Miriam,  microRNA cancer detection device

Miriam, microRNA cancer detection device

A simple 3-D printed device my be leading the way in cancer detection in
the coming decades. “Miriam” is a device that can detect the presence of several different cancer from a single drop of blood. The best part is that the device only costs $500 to make!

Currently, most forms of cancer detection are very expensive to perform. Miriam would allow more frequent and widespread screening for these common cancers.

The device has been designed by technology company Miroculus and uses microRNA in the blood to detect cancer.

From the company’s website:

Our proprietary chemistry can detect microRNAs from body fluids or tissue without the need of a specialized technician or expensive lab machinery. Each well of this plate has our patented biochemistry that is looking for a specific microRNA. This biochemistry acts like a trap that closes only when the microRNA is present in the sample. Whenever a trap closes it will shine with green color.

The test takes approximately 60 minutes. The luminosity of the microRNA filled wells is uploaded to the cloud. The combination of luminosity in the wells is tested against a database that has details of various cancers. Common cancers have specific luminosity combinations. The results can then be downloaded with any smart phone.

In addition to cancer detection, the device may be able to check for reactions to various drugs in the future. The more data the system has in it’s database, the more drug reactions and illnesses it can help detect.

How Scientists Used Shrimp to Help Detect Cancer

Mantis shrimp cancer detection

Mantis shrimp cancer detection

It seems like a strange concept, using the biological advantages that a sea shrimp has to create tools for detecting cancer. But that is just what researchers at the University of Queensland are looking into.

The mantis shrimp has a unique ability that allows it to detect polarized light. The ability allows it to better track food in water conditions with filtered light.

Through a series of tests, researchers discovered that polarized light reflects differently when it hits cancerous tissue. Since the eyes of the mantis shrimp have the ability to discern this type of light, the researchers took a second look at the shrimp’s compound eyes. They are using the design of a shrimps eye to develop a camera to spot cancerous cells from the light they reflect.

The main advantage of this form of cancer detection is that it is non-invasive. It could be of particular use for spotting skin cancer cells in their early stages.

Researchers are using the unique advantages of the shrimp that were develped over millions of years, to help humans in the 21st century!


York, T., Powell, S., Gao, S., Kahan, L., Charanya, T., & Saha, D. et al. (2014). Bioinspired Polarization Imaging Sensors: From Circuits and Optics to Signal Processing Algorithms and Biomedical Applications. Proc. IEEE, 102(10), 1450-1469. doi:10.1109/jproc.2014.2342537

New Biomarker Discovered for Breast Cancer

p66ShcA Biomarker for Breast Cancer

p66ShcA Biomarker for Breast Cancer

Researchers have discovered a protein which may be able to act as a biomarker for the most dangerous forms of breast cancer.

The protein p66ShcA, has higher expression levels in metastatic breast cancers. By detecting this protein, doctors will be able to determine if the breast cancer has started to spread.

The research was published in the October issue of Molecular and Cellular Biology. According to the researchers:

We showed that elevated p66ShcA expression levels are strongly associated with expression of numerous epithelial to mesenchymal transition genes in all breast cancer subtypes,” lead study author Josie Ursini-Siegel of McGill University said in a press release. “Thus, p66ShcA may serve as one of the first prognostic biomarkers to identify poor outcome breasts cancers regardless of their molecular subtype.

Breast cancer usually kills by metastasizing to other parts of the body and killing the patient from cancer in those areas. Patients with metastatic breast cancer usually see the breast tumors expressing cancer cells to other organs via the bloodstream.

This biomarker could allow doctors to better determine the prognosis of patients and put them on the right course of treatment sooner. If a patient presents with this biomarker, doctors would know that the tumors may have metastasized and aggressive forms of treatment are needed.

Spotting Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Avoidance

Skin Cancer Avoidance

For people who have any kind of sun exposure, the skin cancer foundation recommends that you have a head to toe self examination every month. However for many people, the main reminder they have to check for skin cancer is the start of summer as they squeeze into their swimsuits again and take a look at their beach body!

Summer officially starts June 21 in the United States and in sunny climates people are already hitting the beach and increasing their exposure to the sun. Now is a great time to remind yourself about the risks of prolonged exposure to the sun and also to perform that skin cancer self examination or contact a doctor to have any suspicious spots examined.

In the United States, 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and many of these cases could have been prevented by taking greater precautions in the sun. For older people and baby boomers who had many years of intense sun exposure when they were younger, they need to be very vigilant now about the condition of various moles and freckles on their body. You should be monitoring the color, shape and size of those spots to detect skin cancer as early as possible.

The aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma, can spread very quickly and metastasize to other parts of the body including the brain, bones, liver and lungs. This form of skin cancer can metastasize and kill very quickly. Careful monitoring of your skin is essential for everybody, but it’s particularly necessary if you have had regular sun exposure or a lot of exposure when you were young.

Specialists suggest that a lot of sun damage takes places under the age of 18 and that is when the risk for cumulative damage is the greatest. So even if you have a small amount of exposure as an adult, if you had sun exposure as a child you need to be very vigilant about the condition of your skin.

Research tells us that if you had sunburns as a child, your risk of getting skin cancer is doubled later in life.

Signs to look for

During every self examination you need to make a note of the each freckle, bump, mole, birthmark, sore and scab on your body. This is close to do from memory so it is recommended that you use a body map to draw out the location of these blemishes as you self examine.

You can download a skin cancer body map from the Skin Cancer Foundation. You should record the color, size, texture, opacity, asymmetry and location of each spot and then compare it to subsequent inspections.

In addition, you should also photograph yourself every month so you have an accurate image of potential skin cancers and don’t have to rely on your memory. By using photographs in conjunction with a skin cancer body map you should have a good comprehension of the state of your skin and spot changes relatively quickly. Because of the aggressiveness of Melanoma, it is essential that you spot it very quickly.

You should also be on the lookout for pain, itching or bleeding from spots on your skin, which are signs of a developing skin cancer.

Avoiding Skin Cancer

Humans love the sun, it’s a glorious feeling standing in the sun after a swim and it provides an important role in maintaining a healthy body by providing us with vitamin D.

However too much of a good thing is dangerous and sun damage is cumulative. So how can you enjoy the sun safely? Here are some quick tips..

Avoid prolonged exposure, especially between 10am-4pm

Avoid staying in the sun for too long, particularly between the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun is it’s hottest. Go for a swim in the afternoon or morning and avoid spending many hours in the sun during these times without appropriate protection.

Don’t get burnt!

Simply put, the more damage that occurs to your skin the higher the risk of skin cancer. Don’t let you skin burn! Be aware of how much time you have spent in the sun and never let your skin get to this point. Not only are you increasing skin cancer risk when you burn but you are speeding up aging as UV does horrific damage to your skin.

Avoid tanning

Don’t go out of your way to get a tan and don’t use tanning beds. UV light is damaging your skin and while a tan might help you look good in the short term, in the long term the additional UV exposure is a cancer risk and will age you prematurely. You can always get a fake tan to achieve the look you are going for and won’t harm yourself doing it.

Use the appropriate protection

Cover up from the sun and use hats, clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen. This is especially necessary for people who are working in the sun all day – cover your skin as much as possible.

Densely woven fabrics provide the best protection and you can purchase specially made UV protection clothing which blocks most of the UV. That kind of clothing is essential for young children as minimizing their sunburn risk and limiting sun exposure helps avoid skin cancer in later years. Bright and dark colored clothing will also block more UV than white clothing, so consider your attire.

A good pair of sunglasses will also help prevent exposure and reduce the risk of cataracts and melanoma of the eye.

Use sunscreen

It has been drilled into our heads for many years now, but it is always worth remembering – a high SPF sunscreen will protect you against Ultraviolet B rays. However be aware that sunscreen is not always complete protection as many cannot protect against long wave Ultraviolet A rays which are the main cause of melanoma and sun induced skin aging. Get a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA as well as UVB.

You have to also use the sunscreen appropriately, covering your entire body, applying it before going into the sun and reapplying it when necessary. Even with sunscreen on you should avoid prolonged sun exposure.

It is also important to realize that sunscreens may not always be effective and some contain their own risks.

Be aware the sun is always present!

Even when it looks overcast or the weather is cold, be aware the sun is still present and UV rays are present. recommends that you use sunscreen every day when you are outdoors, regardless of the weather. On an overcast day you can still obtain 70% as much UV as you would with the sun out.

Be aware that your environment can change the UV risk. If you are by the water, or on the snow, or on the sand, the level of UV is increased as it is reflected back from the environment with great intensity. UV is higher at high altitudes, so if you are a skier, be aware of the greater risk.

Get regular checkups and perform monthly self examinations

Besides performing a monthly self examination, you should also get your physician to take a look at your skin and look for any suspicious marks.

Take care of yourself and be sun smart! Skin cancer can be avoided or detected early enough to save your life if you are vigilant, so look after yourself and your family.

Dogs Detecting Prostate Cancer

Dogs Detecting Prostate Cancer

Dogs Detecting Prostate Cancer

In an interesting new study, trained dogs have demonstrated they can detect the presence of prostate cancer in a person by smelling their urine with 98% accuracy!

The study is about to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Orlando.

The lead author of the paper, Dr. Gianluigi Taverna says: “This study gives us a standardized method of diagnosis that is reproducible, low cost and non-invasive” Dr. Taverna is chief of the prostatic diseases unit at the Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan, Italy.

Using these specially trained dogs may reduce the number of invasive procedures that people have to undertake when determining if they have prostate cancer, like biopsies. The ease of the test also means that people at high risk of prostate cancer could very easily have annual high accuracy tests.

The study involved over 900 participants and divided them into a prostate cancer group of about 360 men and a control group who did not have prostate cancer, that consisted of 540 men. The control group were tested to ensure they didn’t have any other form of cancer.

Two young German Shepherds were trained for 5 months and once ready they simple smelled the urine and gave their reaction to presence of scents that indicate prostate cancer.

The dogs learned to spot prostate cancer specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the urine samples. None of the trainers or lab technicians knew which samples were from prostate cancer diagnosed persons, so it was entirely up to the animals and no human “hints” were possible.

The results were astonishingly good with one of the dogs detecting to 100% accuracy the patients who had prostate cancer and to 98% accuracy the people from the control group who did not have prostate cancer.

The second dog was slightly less accurate with 98% accuracy at detecting prostate cancer and 96% accuracy for identifying people without the cancer.

From that large study group of 900 people, the animals collectively had 16 false positives and four false negatives.

Researchers suggest that the data can be used in conjunction with the other variables that the doctor is using to diagnose including size of tumor, tumor stage and patient age. When combined with other technologies like MRI scans, PSA tests and biopsies it could add a valuable tool to the doctors arsenal.

Before the accuracy of the dogs can be validated, there needs to be more testing with different racial groups and men of different ages to determine if there is any other biological factor at play which might undermine accuracy.

Unfortunately the use of dogs might not always be viable in a clinical setting, so researchers are also attempting to determine the biomarkers that the animals are spotting in the urine. They may be able to construct a way to replicate the results in the laboratory with a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry device.

Dogs can detect these smells because they have about 40 times more olfactory cells in their noses. For a long time humans have known about dogs sometimes having the ability to detect illness in their human friends. Recent studies have even shown that dogs can also alert people to incoming epileptic and diabetic seizures, so they can warn of incoming problems.

There are other research projects aimed at seeing how effective dogs are at detecting different forms of cancer including lung cancer, bladder cancer and breast cancer. Studies have also shown that dogs can spot ovarian cancer in blood.

Man’s best friend is once again demonstrating how helpful he can be by alerting us to health problems!

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month!

Exercise to Avoid Cancer

Exercise to Avoid Cancer

Dr Rebecca Moss has written a fantastic article for Slate magazine, aimed at raising awareness for one of the most preventable forms of cancer, colorectal cancer. Dr Moss specializes in gastrointestinal cancers at the research level so has a professional understanding of the cause, symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis of the disease.

Her advice is thorough but can be summarized in a few main points. If you wish to avoid dying from colorectal cancer and want to minimize risk:

  1. Have a colonoscopy when your doctor tells you to so you find tumors and polyps before they become cancerous
  2. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight!

As Dr Moss points out in the article, unfortunately many Americans are not getting enough exercise. In fact the vast majority of people don’t get enough exercise with only 1 in 5 exercising enough. That is a staggering statistic and of great concern to researchers who know that exercise is a key to avoiding this form of cancer.

Meanwhile plenty of Americans are still taking vitamins and other health supplements in the mistaken belief that it will protect them from cancer.

So exercise is really a massive factor with regular exercise helping to prevent some of the most dangerous diseases that face adults in America – Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Colorectal Cancer.

Unfortunately due to the explosion of obesity in the United States, colorectal cancer is a common form of the disease. The article also points out that diabetes increase the risk of colorectal cancer by an astonishing 30%. The horror of these statistics is that these diseases can be avoided with regular exercise and a healthy diet. The diseases are also greatly impacting on aging baby boomers, who having reached retirement age are instead facing horrible health problems because they haven’t been exercising with regularity in the last few decades.

So ladies and gentlemen, takes the doctors advice, get out and about. With exercise you will not only be reducing the risk of diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease, you will also look and feel better. It’s a win/win situation so get off the couch and enjoy a longer and happier life.

Researchers Find Link Between Dense Breast Tissue and Cancer

Breast Cancer Prevention

Breast Cancer Prevention

In new research, academics at the University of Manchester have explained exactly why having dense breast tissue increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

The research team was working in conjunction with teams in the USA and Cyprus on the research, and was partially funded by breast cancer charities in the UK.

Professor Michael Lisanti, from from the UK research team said of the research findings:

“We know that high breast density can greatly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk as well as other factors such as aging, family history and presence of mutations in genes such as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.


“What no one has fully appreciated before are the underpinning mechanisms at play” Lisanti continues, “Using a bioinformatics approach, we have identified the relevant signaling pathways that make dense breast tissue more favorable for tumor formation.”

The cells from high density breast tissue, called “fibroblasts” create a molecular signature. Scientists discovered that a cell communication network called JNK1 displayed more activity in fibroblasts from high density breast tissue than in lower density breast tissue.

The cells in the fibroblasts are instructed by this communication network to release chemicals that can cause inflammation. That inflammation can increase the likelihood of tumors forming.

While that all sounds quite complex, what does it mean for the treatment of breast cancer?

Well currently, cancer treatment will focus on the cancer cells themselves – the tumors in the breasts for example. But by understanding the role that the fibrotic cells play, researchers may be able to develop treatments that prevent the cancers appearing in the first place.

If a drug could be developed that blocks the JNK1 network from communicating and causing the inflammation, then tumors would be less likely to occur.

This new research is backed by another recent finding that the molecular signature of the fibroblasts from high density breast tissue matches the signature of fibroblasts from breast tumors.

We might be able to reach the point where women with high density breast tissue could identify that issue and take either a drug to reduce the breast cancer risk, or simply modify their diet or lifestyle.

Professor Jones from the research project: “This analysis of breast density provides a new framework for additional experimental exploration in breast cancer research. This has important clinical and translational implications for stratified medicine and breast cancer prevention.”