Colon Cancer Awareness Month Finishes

Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Colon Cancer Awareness Month

We have just reached the end of march, which signifies the end to colon cancer awareness month. Colon cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the developed world and claims more than 50’000 lives per year.

The key to surviving colon cancer is to catch it in the early stages of development. Thanks to improving treatment technologies, stage 1 colon cancer has survival rates as high as 90%. Unfortunately many people don’t have regular checkups and notice symptoms, so find themselves with stage 2 or stage 3 upon diagnosis.

Colon Cancer Screening is crucial to avoid death from colon cancer, but there are also some simple lifestyle choices that greatly reduce the risk of colon cancer:

Eat a Healthy Diet Containing Fiber

The best way to avoid colon cancer is to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, alongside fiber rich foods like oats, wholemeal pasta and wholemeal bread. By eating a diverse range of foods, you help your body remain naturally resistant to colon cancer.

Don’t Use Tobacco

Tobacco use increases the likelihood that you will get colon cancer.  If you are a smoker, quitting could add years to your lifespan and greatly improve the quality of your life.

Exercise and Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obese people are much more likely to get colon cancer than fit people.  By simply getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day you can greatly reduce your colon cancer risk.


Red Meat and Cancer Risk

Red meat cancer risk

Red meat cancer risk

A number of studies have suggested that red meat can play a role in the development of certain cancers. The largest study to provide evidence of the red meat-cancer link involved 478,000 men and women in Europe. It found that eating more than 5 ounces of red meat per day could raise your colon cancer risk by approximately a third, when compared to those who ate the least red meat.

The consumption of chicken did not appear to alter the colon cancer risk and eating fish actually lowered colon cancer risk.

The other substantial study involved nearly 150,000 Americans between the ages of 50 and 74. It found that a diet heavy in red and processed meats increased cancer risk of the colon and rectum. Eating fish and poultry appeared to protect individuals from these forms of cancer. Other studies have sugested that red meat can increase colon cancer risk by between 20% and 28%.

Red meat consumption is also believed to increase the risk of other cancers, including breast, prostate, lung and ovarian cancers.

Why does red meat increase cancer risk?

The conventional thought in recent years was that the act of grilling red meat created various carcinogens. However, new research at UC San Diego has highlighted at alternative theory. Researchers believe that the risk of cancer is increased because red meat contains a substance that is not found in the human body. This substance (called Neu5Gc), increases inflammation which can result in higher cancer risk.

Researchers established the interactions of this chemical by using mice, genetically engineered to not produce it internally. When this foreign chemical integrated with tissue, it triggered a reaction from the immune system and increased inflammation.

Interestingly, the inflammation and cancer risk from this chemical only occurs in humans, which is why researchers had to use genetically modified mice in their tests.

The inflammation from this chemical may also help other forms of cancer take hold within the body. For example, a smoker might be at greater risk of getting lung cancer if they eat a lot of red meat.

Researchers don’t suggest we should stop eating red meat, but simply eat it in moderation. It contains high levels of iron and protein, which benefit the human body. The senior author of the paper, Dr Varki, suggests that red meat consumption for people under 40 years of age is less of a problem. As people get older and their cancer risk increases, the inflammation presents a large threat.

If you decide to continue eating meat, researchers suggest having 3-4 ounce servings 1-3 times a week should present no substantial increase in cancer risk. Interestingly, the lead researcher only eats chicken and fish!

Neu5Gc is a type sugar molecule, referred to as a sialic acid. Researchers believe that sialic acids can affect many parts of the body, causing inflammation, altering brain development and affecting the immune system. It is believed that some diseases make use of sialic acids to hide themselves from the immune system.

The reason that fish and chicken do not carry the same inflammation risk, is that for the most part, they do not carry nonhuman sialic acids like Neu5Gc. The fish that do carry it, carry small amounts. Fish in particular carries properties than can reduce cancer risk, like high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The next step is to find a medication which is capable of helping the body deal with the chemical and prevent the inflammation. These research findings could eventually help lower cancer rates in countries where red meat consumption is very high — like the United States.

Repurposing Drugs for use in Oncology

Cimetidine to help fight cancer

Cimetidine to help fight cancer

A new research paper has looked at commonly used drugs that can be repurposed to help fight cancer. One example is the common used indigestion medicine cimetidine, which can help treat colorectal cancer.

Medical professionals already know cimetidine is safe, from various trials and many years of use. Therefore, it can be easily combined with other cancer treatments. Cimetidine reduces digestion by blocking histamine receptors in the gut, which reduces the production of gastric acid. It turns out that the drug can also block histamine receptors in cancer cells, which helps the immune system defend against them.

Cimetidine may have a beneficial effect in treating colorectal cancer, renal cancer and melanoma.

The researchers found that:

Based on the evidence presented, it is proposed that cimetidine would synergise with a range of other drugs, including existing chemotherapeutics, and that further exploration of the potential of cimetidine as an anti-cancer therapeutic is warranted. Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that cimetidine administration during the peri-operative period may provide a survival benefit in some cancers. A number of possible combinations with other drugs are discussed in the supplementary material accompanying this paper.

Reducing Cancer Risk

One of the most common drugs that can be repurposed to help avoid cancer may be aspirin. There is a growing body of research that aspirin can reduce pancreatic cancer risk and improve colorectal cancer prognosis.

Repurposing Drugs in Oncology (ReDO)

ReDO is a project that has been looking at ways common drugs may be used to help improve cancer treatments.

It’s primary pbjectives are:

– Identify the most promising drugs for further clinical investigation
– Review and bring to the attention of clinical investigators the data for these drugs
– Document on how these drugs can be combined with existing therapies, or with other repurposed drugs
– Develop clinical trials to provide positive or negative evidence of efficacy
– Where necessary, suggest areas where further pre-clinical work is necessary

By finding commonly used drugs that have a beneficial effect in the fight against cancer, the research group also helps provide low cost treatments and preventatives against cancer.

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.

Vitamin D and Cancer

Vitamin D & Cancer Prevention

Vitamin D & Cancer Prevention

Vitamin D is actually a number of fat-soluble secosteroids including Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) and Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2). It is an interesting vitamin because the human body can either digest it via food or it can be obtained via exposure to the sun as the body synthesizes it. In that sense it’s not a dietary vitamin in the strict sense as it can come from the human bodies exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D is essential for the development, growth and repair of human bones, aids in the absorption of calcium and helps the immune system function. Vitamin D also plays a role in improving muscle strength and reducing inflammation.

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of diseases including rickets (childhood osteomalacia), so in the developed world it is added to a number of food items like cow’s milk to avoid those illnesses. A lack of vitamin D can also play a role in the development of Osteoporosis. People with unusual diets and those who do not obtain enough sunlight are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Between the ages 1-50, 5 μg (=200 IU) of vitamin D is recommended. After 50 most specialists recommend between 10 μg (=400 IU) and 15 μg (=600 IU) of vitamin D.

Vitamin D Studies

Recent studies have suggested that high levels of vitamin D may actually reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and studies are looking at further possible cancer risk reduction for prostate cancer, breast cancer and pancreatic cancers. This post will take a closer look at the accumulated evidence for vitamin D playing a role in cancer prevention.

Many scientific studies have been performed which look at vitamin D specifically. In early tests, scientists looked at the geographic correlation studies to see if people in more sunny areas of the planet (higher vitamin D intake) had lower risk of cancers. People living in the southern latitudes were found to have a lower incidence of certain cancers than people in the less sunny northern latitudes. From these early studies, scientists suggested that vitamin D played some role in cancer prevention.

In laboratory studies, vitamin D was used on cancer cells and found to have an impact on the growth of the cancer cells and in some cases even killed them. Laboratory studies using cultures are quite often vastly different from the how vitamins operate within the human body however.

Clinical human trials have determined that vitamin D high intake may reduce the risk of cancer. One trial involving 1250 older women who took a combination of calcium tablets and vitamin D tablets for 4 years saw a 60% lower incidence of cancer compared to the placebo taking group. However in that study, a vitamin D only group (without calcium) was not used. The study itself was designed to look at bone health so the cancer findings were supplementary.

Observational studies have been undertaken to look at vitamin D and it’s cancer prevention abilities specifically. The studies haven’t been conclusive so far, largely due to the difficulty of determining how much the patients diet impacts their chances of getting cancer. Quite often the data which is given by patients to researchers is also inaccurate, with their determination of their dietary intake being way off. At this stage many of the studies suggest their is possibly a link between higher vitamin D consumption and reduced cancer risk.

There is also a very close relationship between vitamin D and calcium in the body, so it is somewhat difficult to study just the effects of vitamin D when varying levels of calcium intake are involved in the mix. New randomized trials which look at vitamin D specifically are required.

Vitamin D and Colorectal Cancer

The data in this area is somewhat inconsistent, but findings indicate that there is some role for vitamin D in the prevention of colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention study which featured 120’000 men and women found that men who took 13 μg (525 IU) or more vitamin D per day in their diet had a lower risk of colorectal cancer. However, interestingly this reduced risk was not shown in women.

In a meta-study looking at 10 cohort studies, it was found that people who had very high vitamin D intakes had a slightly lower risk of colorectal cancer than those on the lowest intakes of vitamin D. However the risk was reduced by such a small amount it could have been a statistical anomaly.

In the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a look at over 16’000 participants concluded that those with higher vitamin D blood levels (≥80 nmol/L) had a 72 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer death compared to those with a very low level of vitamin D in their blood.

Of the types of cancer, colorectal cancer prevention is the one most likely linked with high vitamin D intake.

Vitamin D and Breast Cancer

There have been conflicting results in epidemiological studies looking at the link between breast cancer risk reduction and vitamin D. Some studies find a link in risk reduction, but others find no such link. A meta-study involving six other studies saw no association between vitamin D intake and breast cancer risk reduction. That being said, the studies involved did not have very high vitamin D intakes required, and when the study only looked at the very high intakes (>10μg) compared to the very low (<1.25μg) there was a reduced risk in breast cancer found.In another large study which involved many thousands of women taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, there was no reduced risk of invasive breast cancer found.

Vitamin D and Prostate Cancer Risk

Geographic correlation studies (comparing people in sunny locations to less sunny), have found a link between vitamin D and reduced prostate cancer risk. However epidemiological studies have found no such link.

In a large study that looked at the incidence of prostate cancer in men a number of years after their blood was tested for vitamin D levels, high vitamin D blood levels did not have a link to reduced prostate cancer risk. If anything, there was a link between increased vitamin D intake and an increased risk of the aggressive prostate cancer.

Vitamin D and Pancreas Cancer Risk

There is some debate about the role of vitamin D in reducing pancreas cancer risk with some vastly different results. One study involving 120’000 men and women found that participants with higher intakes of vitamin D had a progressively lower risk of pancreas cancer compared to the lower intake participants. However, this study used questionnaires which involved patients estimating their diet and there vitamin D levels.

In a PLCO study, no link was found between vitamin D level and reduced pancreatic cancer risk.

Should you take vitamin D?

Vitamin D is essential for the functioning of the human body. If you do not get much sunlight exposure, and/or you are over the age of 50, vitamin D supplements might be a good idea just for maintaining good health. To identify any vitamin D deficiency, have a blood test done by your doctor.

As to whether vitamin D reduces the risk of cancer, there is a great deal of data for and against it. The strongest evidence is for colorectal cancer prevention. However if you are concerned about prostate cancer, taking high levels of vitamin D might in fact increase your risk. There is potential benefit, but also potential risk of prostate cancer for men. At this stage the best decision you could make, would be to consult with your doctor and determine your levels then decide if you need more vitamin D.