Doctors Failing to Incorporate New Breast Cancer Treatments

Elderly women having unnecessary radiology

Elderly women having unnecessary radiology

New research published in the Journal “Cancer” highlights some problems in the changing treatment options for patients and doctors. The study looked at the use of radiology in elderly patients with early stage breast cancer.

Some research indicates that most elderly women see no change in life expectancy after using radiology to treat their early stage breast cancer. The radiology treatments can be painful and in many cases, ultimately unnecessary. The research found that many doctors are continuing to follow treatment paths that are not providing any actual increase in the life expectancy of their patients.

The study looked at survival rates and cancer recurrence for women who had surgery and chemotherapy, then compared that to women who had surgery, chemotherapy and radiology. The women who undertook radiology saw no additional benefit in terms of survival rate.

The data from the research indicates that adjuvant radiotherapy could be safely omitted from the treatment program in elderly women with breast cancer. The research points out that — while there has been a large decrease in radiotherapy, almost two-thirds of women are still receiving radiotherapy unnecessarily.

68.6% of patients treated between 2000 and 2004 compared with 61.7% of patients who were treated between 2005 and 2009 received some form of adjuvant radiotherapy. There was an increase in the use of implant radiotherapy from 1.4% between 2000 and 2004 to 6.2% between 2005 to 2009 (P < .001).Radiology carries some significant side effects including nerve damage, swelling, blistering, lymphedema and tiredness.The fact that doctors are continuing to use radiology on elderly women indicates they are not aware of the latest research into survival rates. This highlights a disconnect between treatment practices and research that must be addressed.

Cancer Survival Rates Tied to Location

Cancer 5 year survival rates

Cancer 5 year survival rates

One of the largest meta-study of cancer survival rates ever done has been published in the journal, “The Lancet”. Global surveillance of cancer survival 1995—2009: analysis of individual data for 25 676 887 patients from 279 population-based registries in 67 countries

The study highlights the massive discrepancy in survival rates between some countries. Cervical cancer, for example, has a 70% 5 year survival rate in some countries, but 40% in others. Some forms of leukemia offer 90%+ survival rates in the United States, but 16% in some parts of the Middle East.

The study used 279 population based cancer registries, from 67 countries to gather data. That encompassed more than 25.7 million adults and 75,000 children. The types of cancers involved were cancer of the stomach, colon, liver, rectum, lung, breast, cervix, ovary and prostate. They also examined childhood leukemia.

The study found that 5 year survival rates for common cancers like colorectal and breast has been increasing in developed countries. Developing countries were lagging behind.

It also found that liver and lung cancers remain extremely dangerous, with very low survival rates around the world. 20% for all of Europe, 15-19% in North America and as low as 7-9% in parts of asia.

Some of the good news included a 10-20% increase in the survival rate for prostate cancers. At it’s lowest, the survival rate is 60% in Thailand and Bulgaria, 95% at its highest in Brazil, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

For cervical cancer, 5-year survival rates range from less than 50% to more than 70%. Regional variations are much wider, and improvements between 1995—99 and 2005—09 have generally been small.

NVIDIA Grants $400,000 to Two Cancer Research Teams

nividia cancer research

nividia cancer research

NVIDIA is not the first company you think of when talking about cancer research. The company makes computer hardware and software that powers visual computing (what you see on the screen of your computer). But NVIDIA has done some great work in philanthropy, including recently providing grants to researchers working in the field of cancer research.

NVIDIA has given $200,000 to each of the research groups, who are using high end computer hardware to examine the genome and uncover how cancer works. One of the research teams is examining the genome data of thousands of cancer patients to uncover any common genomic patterns. The other group is examining how they can use home computers to crunch numbers and lead to new breast cancer treatments.

Because of the high volumes of data involved in analyzing the human genomes and the genomic data of cancer patients, high end computing power is required. NVIDIA hope that the grants will encourage technological specialists to enter the field of medical research with innovative approaches.

Once the genetic patterns that cause cancer are identified, it opens up a number of options for early diagnosis and treatment. Some new drugs work with a patient’s individual genomic data to switch off certain genes. Being able to process that genomic data faster will also help reduce the cost of those drugs.

The research teams are also looking for genetic similarities between various forms of cancer. By identifying similarities, they may find a central genetic marker that indicates cancer risk. The similarities can help in the development of gene therapies.

Learn more about the research funding at the NVIDIA blog.

Research Suggests Meditation May Help Cancer Patients

Cancer and Meditation

Cancer and Meditation

For many years now, spiritualists and alternative medicine devotees have suggested that meditation can help a person beat cancer. In a world first, some research may have demonstrated that meditation can alter cells within the human body and play a role in battling cancer.

The canadian-based research, “Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive-expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors“, has been published in the journal Cancer. It indicates that meditation and yoga can alter cellular activity of cancer survivors.

Protein caps at the end of chromosome called telomeres stayed at the same length in cancer survivors who meditated or took part in support groups over a 3 month period. This is contrasted with people who did not participate in support groups or meditation, and saw a shortening of their telomeres. Telomeres determine how quickly a cell ages.

The question here is what role telomeres play in regulating disease. There is some evidence that longer telomeres can help protect people from diseases like breast cancer.

There was already evidence that meditation, mindfulness and support groups could make you feel better, but this is the first mind-body link discovered for these practices.

88 breast cancer survivors took part in the research. The average age of the participants involved was 55. One third of the group was asked to attend a weekly 90 minute support session and to practice meditation or yoga for 45 minutes each day.

Another third just used the support group to talk about their emotions. The third group attended a single seminar about stress management and was not asked to meditate.

The people who used the support group and meditated had lower stress levels and maintained their telomere length. The control group saw a shortening.

This is very exciting research for people who have advocated for meditation and mindfulness. While we don’t know exactly what role telomeres play in human health just yet, we do know that maintaining telomere length is positive for human health.

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.

NFL Continues to Raise Money for Breast Cancer

NFL Supporting Breast Cancer

NFL Supporting Breast Cancer

The NFL is continuing with it’s annual breast cancer awareness month, which occurs every October. The campaign is designed to increase breast cancer awareness and raise money for breast cancer research. The breast cancer awareness campaign began in 2009. In the United States, breast cancer remains the 2nd most dangerous form of cancer for women.

Similar campaigns have been started in other countries with the rugby league competition in Australia also raising awareness and funding for breast cancer research.

NFL players and fans wear pink to the games in October, leading to the stunning sight of a crowd awash in bright pink. The NFL most definitely has some work to do as it attempts to repair it’s reputation after damage domestic violence incidents from players.

The games in October include cancer survivors honored at half time and player gear auctioned off to support cancer research. It’s not a small amount of money either, with the event raising over $7 million since it began.

The more funding breast cancer research obtains, the close we are to a cure for this terrible disease. While enjoying the games this month, make sure to donate some money and talk to the women in your family about breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

The year is moving incredibly quickly and we are almost up to September. The American Cancer Society has reminded us that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) aims to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research.

Breast Cancer continues to be one of the most dangerous forms of cancer, with death rates higher than any other form of cancer. More than 232,000 new cases diagnosed in 2013 and nearly 40,000 women died from breast cancer in the same year.

It is a very common and very deadly form of the disease, which makes it a focal point for a of cancer research.

In the past couple of years, public awareness of the gene mutations which are responsible for some breast cancers, has increased. This is largely thanks to Angelina Jolie, who had the gene mutation and undertook a double to avoid breast cancer.

With breast cancer, early detection is incredibly important. Take a read of the breast cancer early detection guidelines at

The Angelina Jolie Effect – Women Screening for BRCA Mutation Increases

Angelina Jolie BRCA Mutation

Angelina Jolie BRCA Mutation

Angelina Jolie became famous thanks to a string of successful films and her amazing beauty. In recent years she has turned her focus to humanitarian and health issues. One of the health issues she has helped highlight is breast cancer and the BRCA gene mutation that can lead to breast cancer.

Jolie had a double mastectomy because she was found to be carrying the gene mutation that greatly increases the chances of cancer. Her high publicity case has seen an increase in the number of women who have come forward for screening for the gene mutation. For women who have a history of breast cancer in their family, it is an essential test. For women have the gene mutation, a double mastectomy is the most extreme option they can pursue but it may guarantee they will not have breast cancer in the future.

There is one caveat though — the double mastectomy solution may be best only when breast cancer is not already present. Recent studies have indicated that for women who already have breast cancer, a lumpectomy followed by radiation may be more effective than a double mastectomy.

Andrea Eisen, head of the Familial Cancer Program in Toronto recently presented some research on the “Angelina Jolie Effect”, which highlighted the increase in breast cancer screenings. Women with a family history are flocking to the doctor for screenings that test for BRCA mutations.

In recent years the number of mastectomies has greatly increased, largely because of increasing awareness about BRCA mutations and breast cancer. Additionally, most health insurance companies cover the cost of both the mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery now. Women can now have their breasts removed and in the same procedure have implants added.

Angelina Jolie made a very public statement about her mastectomy by writing an opinion piece for the New York Times in 2013. The media jumped onto the story and thousands of women applauded Jolie for her bravery. In Jolie’s case she had more than an 80% chance of getting breast cancer.

The study found that the number of women who opted for genetic screening doubled after the Jolie story was published, the vast majority of which were in the high risk group for breast cancer. Of those women, 61 were found to have the BRCA mutation.

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.

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.