New Research – Double Mastectomy Not Improving Survival Rates

Breast Cancer Mastecomy Research

Breast Cancer Mastecomy Research

A new research paper suggests that women with breast cancer who decide to have a double mastectomy are not improving their chances of survival. The research indicates that having the tumors incised from the breasts, followed by radiotherapy, has a similar rate of survival as a double mastectomy.

The research used the records of nearly 190’000 women in California to determine the findings. According to Dr Allison Kurian from Stanford University: “the average breast cancer patient who has bilateral mastectomy will have no better survival than the average patient who has lumpectomy plus radiation”.

A decade after having breasts removed, 18.8% of women had died, compared to 16.8% of women who had the tumors removed, followed by radiotherapy. These findings have surprised many in the medical community and will surely lead to a reduction in the number of women having mastectomies.

Recently high some profile women, including Angelina Jolie, have had double mastectomies because they carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. The mutation dramatically increases the chance that a woman will have breast cancer. The data in this research does not reflect the women who had completely preventative mastectomies like Jolie. Only the ones who were diagnosed with breast cancer before taking their choice of procedure.

Mastectomies are a substantial surgical procedure that women usually take months to recover from. Having a lumpectomy has a shorter recovery period and allows the woman to retain most of her breast tissue.

The study also highlighted the increase in the number of women have mastectomies. In 1998 only 2% of women diagnosed with breast cancer would choose to have a double mastectomy. That increased to 12.3% in 2011, perhaps a sign that women thought the mastectomy would completely remove the risk of cancer. Many more private health insurers also began to cover mastectomies and breast reconstruction as a part of their policies also

Interestingly the 10 year death rate was highest in women who chose to have only one breast removed, coming in at just over 20%.

Double mastectomies are less common in other countries with the standard procedure in the United Kingdom being a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.

Calorie Intake and Breast Cancer

Weight Gain Breast Cancer

Weight Gain Breast Cancer

A new study in the United States has highlighted the role that calorie intake may play in the development of breast cancer.

Researchers discovered that when radiotherapy was being used to treat breast cancer in women with a specific form of the disease, the treatment was more effective if their calorie intake was lower.

The “triple negative” form of breast cancer is a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer and affects about 20% of all women with breast cancer. This form of cancer also tends to be found more often in young women, below 40 years of age.

Women with this form of breast cancer often see it spread very quickly with stubborn tumors returning after treatment.

Researchers aren’t sure why a reduced calorie intake helps prevent the tumors return, but it may be to do with reduced calorie intake changing the tissue surrounding the tumor.

The problem is that many of the treatments which women are given to help them fight cancer promote weight gain. Treatments like hormonal therapy and steroids which are used to slow the growth of tumors can increase weight gain by slowing metabolism, making the tumors more resilient!

We know from other studies that being overweight is actually linked to breast cancer if you have a particular genetic marker. Many other forms of cancer are also linked to being over weight, so there are plenty of reasons to maintain your fitness and weight.

Studies also show that breast cancer treatment is less effective if you are overweight and people who gain a lot of weight during their breast cancer treatment are likely to have worse outcomes.

These studies have made researchers more interested in the role of metabolism in the treatment of cancer. If they can make sure the treatments don’t adversely affect metabolism and induce weight gain in patients, then better outcomes for patients are more likely.

Dr Nicole Simone, the study leader of the most recent research says that from the findings: ‘We found that the diet turned on a programme that protected mice from metastatic disease,’. The study was published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, and found that in the dieting mice, cancer cells decreased their production of microRNAs 17 and 20 (miR 17/20).

Those two molecules play an important role in influencing disease pathways. In the triple negative breast cancer patients, this group of MicroRNAs is usually larger.

Researchers used mice in the study and found that the mice who undertook radiation and calorie restriction had the best outcomes.

This latest research is only one of many studies that backup the role of a healthy diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. In 2009 a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) found that:

restricting consumption of glucose, the most common dietary sugar, can extend the life of healthy human-lung cells and speed the death of precancerous human-lung cells, reducing cancer’s spread and growth rate.

Which researchers saw as another indicator that moderating calorie intake helps prevent cancer.

However this is not an argument for unhealthy dieting, but rather an argument for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, exercising and avoiding processed foods.

The excess weight and cancer link is not a new one either. In 1987 studies were suggesting that people watch their weight: “a complete review of the data suggests that reducing caloric intake and relative body weight may lead to a considerable decrease in cancer risk in humans.”

Exciting New Lung Cancer Drugs

Immunotherapy Lung Cancer Treatment

Immunotherapy Lung Cancer Treatment

Researchers have revealed some new drug treatments which are capable of completely clearing tumors for people with advanced stage lung cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and once it has metastasized to other parts of the body the prognosis for the patient is usually very grim and they usually only have months to live. These new immunotherapy drugs are capable of not only attacking tumors within the lungs but following the cancer to other sites that it has metastasized throughout the body.

One patient who had lung cancer that metastasized through to his brain, bones and adrenal glans saw complete remission, which astonished and excited many researchers.

Lung cancer is still one of the biggest killers in the world with many baby boomers who were smoking earlier in their lives finding themselves afflicted with it. Lung cancer kills more people than breast or bowel cancer, the other two prevalent forms of the disease.

The results of the most recent drug trial will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, in a few days time.

One of the drugs that has shown incredible results is called nivolumab. In the trials, at least 129 (24% of the total patients) who had advanced lung cancer have survived for two or more years since starting nivolumab. For a disease that usually kills within months once it has advanced, that is an astonishing result.

Researchers said some of the patients had extremely advanced cancer that would normally kill them within a couple of months, but they are still alive because of the treatment.
One of the researchers, Dr Mick Peake of Glenfield Hospital says: “By the time it’s spread that far, you don’t expect patients to last more than a couple of months. But in a recent scan, his doctor could not find any evidence of residual disease.”

Survival rates with the optimum dose are even higher, with 45% still alive after two years. To get such large percentages surviving an aggressive form of cancer for so long is exciting for researchers. The sheer number of positive cases is also unusual, as it is such a massive and widespread improvement.

These new types of “immunotherapy” drugs are also called anti-PD1s or anti-PDL1s, and work by teaching the immune system to see tumors as something to be attacked. Normally cancer cells cloak themselves from the immune system, so unlike an infection the immune system will ignore them.

Another similar drug called MK3475 has also been showing incredible results and according to researchers they could conceivably be a large component of the the cure for cancer. At the very least, with refinement they could allow cancer patients to live for many more years than they currently do.

Dr Julie Brahmer of John Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Baltimore has helped lead the US nivolumab trials. Dr Brahmer suggests that while it is too early to call the treatments a cure for cancer, the results are astonishing with tumors shrinking to almost nothing and people with aggressive cancers living for years.

There is also some suggestion that the immune system learns how to treat cancerous tumors in the future because it continues to attack them after the drugs have stopped.

The researchers will continue to develop the immunotherapy drugs and research how they can interact with other new drugs and common treatments to make them more effective. There may be even some possibility of combining the effectiveness of these drugs with other that utilize viruses to further mark the tumors as foreign bodies that should be attacked.

Obesity Breast Cancer Linked Confirmed

Overweight Women and Breast Cancer

Overweight Women and Breast Cancer

Another study has been released that looks at the link between obesity and breast cancer, this time finding a genetic marker that increases the risk of cancer. Researchers found that white women with the genetic marker are 70% more likely to have breast cancer than those without it. Additionally, women with the marker saw their breast cancer risk increased by a massive 210% if they were overweight or obese. The genetic marker in question is within the mTOR gene and it’s identification gives researchers some hope that women with high risk of breast cancer being notified early and alert to the risk.

Researchers have established a link between obesity and cancer in general, with a number of studies concluding that people who are obese are more likely to die from cancer. Obese people have “death rates from all cancers combined that were 52 percent higher (for men) and 62 percent higher (for women) than the rates in men and women of normal weight”.

So we know that weight loss is a good idea if you are interested in preventing cancer in general, but for women with this genetic marker, it is even more crucial that they get their weight under control. Once additional studies have confirmed the role that this genetic marker has, doctors will be able to screen women for it at an early age so they can change their life style and be extremely vigilant about breast cancer.

The genetic marker appears to increase risk of a particular form of breast cancer called estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. This type of breast cancer does not respond to hormonal breast cancer treatment so is considered generally tougher to treat. Overweight or obese white women with the marker are eight times more likely to have this form of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer develop.

This is not the first time being overweight has been linked to breast cancer with earlier research papers backing up the findings. Both the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that there is “convincing” evidence that being overweight or obese increases breast cancer risk after menopause. The American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study-II found that weight gain as an adult increases that risk for when you are older. Women who gain 60 or more pounds after age 18 have twice the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer later in life. The increase in risk is thought to be due to higher levels of estrogen, which is held in fat tissue.

A 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed that 68 percent of U.S. adults age 20 years and older are overweight or obese. That is up from close to 56%, 20 years ago. The number of overweight children is also increasing in the United States with an extraordinary 17% considered to be obese. Being overweight or obese doesn’t just increase the risk of various forms of cancer, but also heart disease and diabetes which are big killers in the United States.

Being overweight has already been associated with increase in risk of other forms of cancer including cancers of the Esophagus, Pancreas, Colon and rectum, Endometrium (lining of the uterus), Kidney, Thyroid and Gallbladder. According to, in 2007 about 34,000 new cases of cancer in men (4 percent) and 50,500 in women (7 percent) were due to obesity in the United States.

However there are still many questions to answer regarding weight gain and breast cancer risk. Researchers are trying to understand how the relationship between obesity and breast cancer may be impacted by the stage of life in which a woman gains weight. Gaining weight during your adult life, from 18 to the ages of 50 and 60, has been confirmed to increase risk of breast cancer after menopause.

The most recent study looked at 1300 white women and 1300 black women living on the Eastern coast of the United States, around New York and New Jersey. About half the women in each racial group had breast cancer and the women ranged in age from 20 to 75 years old.

Interestingly, the marker appeared to only increase breast cancer risk for white women which means the impact of this marker is tied to ethnicity. The mTOR gene is an integral part of cell growth and blood vessel formation within the human body. The gene can be more active from excessive energy intake, which is where the overall number of calories that overweight women take in could be playing a role.

The gene is regulated by energy intake, so when women eat large amounts of food and signal the gene it may be promoting cancer growth.

The research is at an early stage but the potential for screening and potentially gene therapy makes it a very exciting development.