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.

Source:
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

Cancer Death Stirs up Euthanasia Debate

Brittany Maynard Euthanasia

Brittany Maynard Euthanasia

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer, took her own life on Saturday. Maynard had pledged to take her own life 4 weeks ago.

She took her life with euthanasia drugs legally available in Oregon for people with a terminal illness. Maynard vowed to end her life before the cancer symptoms reduced her ability to make decisions for herself.

Brittany and her husband Dan Diaz had to move from California to Portland to take advantage of the euthanasia laws. A statement from Sean Crowley of advocacy group Compassion & Choices said that: “She died as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones”.

Maynard was suffering from worsening seizures, headaches, neck pain and other severe brain tumor symptoms. Frequently in pain, she decided to die on her own terms. Her brain tumor was very fast progressing, with diagnosis only occurring 6 months ago. Doctors realized early on that she did not have long to live and would suffer from severe symptoms.

Currently five states in the United States allow euthanasia for terminally ill patients. Maynard’s situation has stirred the debate once more.

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!

References

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

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 cancer.org.

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.

Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer


The thyroid gland is a large endocrine gland found in the neck below the thyroid cartilage that forms the adams apple. The gland controls how rapidly the body uses energy, how the body responds to hormones and it makes proteins. The thyroid gland does these things by producing thyroid hormones including triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (T4). These hormones affect the growth rate and function of many parts of the body and manipulate the rate of metabolism within the body.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

The technical description for Thyroid cancer is a malignat thyroid neoplasm with comes from parafollicular or follicular cells. Typically the thyroid cancer is often first detected as a nodule in the thyroid which can found by an examination from your doctor. Nodules are somewhat commonplace though, with 95% of nodules not malignant. Other early symptoms include an enlarged lymph node, pain in the neck and possibly a change in voice.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can sometimes be associated with a large metastatic tumor. Nodules in the thyroid are more serious for younger patients because they are less common in people below 20. If a young person has nodules it is far more likely to be malignant.

Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer

After a general practitioner locates a thyroid nodule during a physical exam, the patient is usually forwarded to an endocrinologist or thyroidologist who normally perform an ultrasound to confirm the presence of the nodule. They then assess the condition of the thyroid and do tests on the strength of thyroid hormones and anti-thyroid antibodies. That helps them determine if a thyroid disease is present and has caused the nodule.

To finally determine if cancer is present, a fine needle aspiration cytology test is performed.

Thyroid Cancer Classification

Thyroid cancer is classified into the following categories:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer – The most common form of thyroid cancer usually found in young females. Makes up about 75%-80% of cases, it has a very good prognosis
  • Follicular thyroid cancer – makes up 10% to 20% of cases
  • Medullary thyroid cancer – makes up 5% to 8% of cases
  • Poorly differentiated thyroid cancer
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer – makes up less than 5%

The follicular and papillary types of thyroid cancer have a much better prognosis than medullary and undifferentiated thyroid cancer types.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment

Thyroid cancer is similar to prostate cancer in that it is very common in older adults, is slow growing and often doesn’t even require treatment. Slow growing thyroid cancer may not even produce any symptoms, so the patient isn’t aware of any problems and can pass away from another illness before the thyroid cancer becomes a concern. For this reason, a slow growing thyroid cancer is rarely treated.

For faster growing thyroid cancer there are a number of options. Surgery is sometimes used with the thyroidectomy and lobectomy procedures being two of the most common approaches.

Radioactive Iodine-131 is often used post-surgery to treat patients who have papillary or follicular thyroid cancer. It is used for ablation of residual thyroid tissue after the surgical work has been performed. Some types of thyroid cancer, including medullary, anaplastic, and many Hurthle cell cancers do not benefit from radioactive iodine-131 treatment.

Occasionally external radiation is also used to help relieve pain or when the cancer is unable to be removed by surgery.

Some new drugs including Sorafenib and Sunitinib have shown promising results for the treatment of thyroid cancer.

Prognosis for Thyroid Cancer

For the most common form of thyroid cancer, papillary, the prognosis is very good with an overall 5 year survival rate of around 97%. There are 4 stages of development of thyroid cancer and if caught at stage I or stage II, papillary thyroid cancer has a 100% 5 year survival rate. At stage III that shortens to 93% and at stage IV that becomes 51%. There is currently a greater trend towards early detection of thyroid cancer, which has led to a boost in the survival rates.

The follicular and medullary have similar 5 year survival rates, however stage IV medullary thyroid cancer patients have a much lower 5 year survival rate ay 28%.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is always stage 4 and has a poor 5 year survival rate at 7%. This relatively rare form of thyroid cancer is very aggressive and has shown resistance to the traditional forms of thyroid cancer treatment. Anaplastic thyroid cancer usually spreads into the surrounding tissue rapidly, also explaining the poor survival rate.

Thyroid cancer is much less common in men than it is in women, with women being three times more likely to be afflicted.

Stomach Cancer Signs & Symptoms

Stomach Cancer

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer is responsible for nearly a million deaths each year and is one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Unfortunately because the symptoms are often confused with other illnesses, the diagnosis of stomach cancer is sometimes delayed, leading to patients presenting with stomach cancer that has progressed to an advanced stage. Prognosis is poor with a 5 year survival rate of between 5% and 15%.

Very often, in it’s early stages, stomach cancer produces no noticeable symptoms or it may show symptoms that are commonly seen in other less serious illnesses. When the symptoms of stomach cancer become easily noticed, often the disease is at an advanced stage and has metastasized to other parts of the body leading to a poor prognosis.

Stomach Cancer Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of stomach cancer at the three stages:

In the early stages of stomach cancer, if any symptoms are present they could be as simple as a loss of appetite (especially for hard to digest foods like meat), indigestion or heartburn, and abdominal discomfort. Those symptoms are frequently found in the general population and usually don’t signify the presence of stomach cancer, leading to most people ignoring those common symptoms.

In stage 2 (medium stage) the symptoms become slightly more worrisome, but are still not significant enough for most people to warrant a trip to the doctor. At this stage some weakness or a general feeling of fatigue may be experienced. In addition, some bloating of the stomach may be observed after meals.

In stage 3 (late stage stomach cancer) the symptoms become much more serious and easily noticeable. Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding which can be seen in the stool. Also this bleeding can lead to anemia
  • An illness caused dysphagia that is triggered by a gastric tumor

The problem with stomach cancer is that even the advanced stages of the disease show symptoms that may also be a gastric ulcer or stomach virus.

Stomach Cancer Causes

Most cases of stomach cancer are caused by a bacterium found in the stomach, called Helicobacter pylori.

Surprisingly, diet is not a consideration in most cases of stomach cancer, but some foods like pickled vegetables have been linked with a higher incidence. Cured meats are high in nitrates and nitrites that can be converted to bacteria that has been shown to promote stomach cancer in animals.

Cancer organizations suggest that a varied diet high in fruits and vegetables can help avoid stomach cancer, and in general a healthy diet is a great idea to avoid a number of cancers and heart disease.

Smoking is once again a promoter of cancer with a 40% increased risk for casual smokers and an 80%+ increased risk of stomach cancer for heavy smokers. Smokers tend to get stomach cancer in the upper regions of the stomach, especially the esophagus. Significant alcohol consumption is tentatively linked with stomach cancer, so once again moderation with alcohol is a good thing.

About 10% of stomach cancers show some kind of link to genetic factors and genetic testing is now available for families with a history of stomach cancer.

The Helicobacter pylori bacterium is responsible for between 65% and 80% of stomach cancers, so apart from maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking or drinking excessively, not a lot can be done to avoid this form of cancer.

Males are much more likely than females to contract stomach cancer with some studies suggesting that estrogen plays a role in protecting women from stomach cancer. You are three times more likely to develop stomach cancer if you are male.

Stomach Cancer Detection

In it’s early stages, it is unlikely that a general practitioner would advise tests for stomach cancer because the symptoms are so commonplace. If you have a family history of this type of cancer, it is advised that you get tested early and be vigilent as to the symptoms of this form of cancer.

After the doctor has performed an initial examination to eliminate other causes of the symptoms, lab studies will need to be ordered to confirm stomach cancer.

The other examinations a patient may be asked to do to confirm stomach cancer include:

  • A CT scan of the abdomen to determine the location of tumors.
  • A Gastroscopic exam which involves the insertion of a fiber optic camera into the stomach
  • An upper gastro intestinal series, which involves x-rays of the stomach and surrounding areas

Any abnormal tissue found during a gastroscopic exam may also need to be biopsied to determine if it is cancerous.

Blood tests can also help form a diagnosis and the blood is checked for anemia.

Stomach Cancer Treatment

Unfortunately stomach cancer is difficult to treat, particularly in the late stages. Treatment generally consists of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. New forms of treatment are being trialled which may lead to better outcomes, but at the moment prognosis is usually not very good with this form of cancer.

Surgical treatment usually involves removing part of the stomach and possibly the surrounding lymph nodes. If the cancer has spread, the surgery may also involve the removal of part of the pancreas or intestines.

If the cancer has spread, the surgical option is often just a palliative solution and aims to extend life instead of curing the disease.

Chemotherapy is unfortunately not very effective in the treatment of stomach cancer and is usually only useful in palliative care and to reduce the size of any tumors. Sometimes chemotherapy is used prior to surgery to reduce the size of the tumors, then used again after surgery to help restrict any remaining cancer growth.

Radiation therapy is also used in combination with chemotherapy and/or surgery to help relieve pain and reduce the size of any tumors. Radiation therapy is also usually used as a palliative measure.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer


Ovarian Cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the United States. As the name implies, it is a form of cancer that affects women’s ovaries and it affects mostly older women. Women have 2 ovaries – small organs which make eggs and secrete hormones.

Symptoms and Risk Factors
It is a form of cancer that is very subtle in it’s early stages with the symptoms often continuing unnoticed. The common symptoms include pelvic pain, problems eating, bloating and frequent urination. Those symptoms are frequently found in conjunction with other illnesses so it is often difficult to diagnose early on.

Most ovarian cancers arise from the surface of the ovary, but research has suggested that the fallopian tubes may be responsible for some instances of ovarian cancer.

If you find yourself with the symptoms of ovarian cancer more than 10 times a month, then it is time to have yourself examined for ovarian cancer. So for example if you suddenly experience pelvic soreness on 5 days, have difficulty eating on 3 days, experience bloating on 4 days and are older than 50 you should seek diagnosis immediately.

Less common symptoms can include back pain, general tiredness, involuntary weight loss and an abdominal mass. The bloating and pelvic pain are usually caused by a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity. The pressure on the stomach from this fluid buildup is usually what causes changes to apetite also.

If you have a family member who has experienced ovarian cancer, your chances of experiencing the illness are twice as high. Unfortunately there are hereditary forms of ovarian cancer caused by gene mutations. So if you have a mother or grandmother who experienced ovarian cancer, you should consult a doctor early on if you experience symptoms, and get screened regularly when you are over 50.

Infertile women also have a higher risk of experiencing ovarian cancer as are women with endometriosis and women who have had estrogen replacement therapy.

Research has found that oral contraceptive pills are a protective factor against ovarian cancer. Long term studies have shown that women who used oral contraception for 10 years have a 50%+ reduction in their chance of contracting ovarian cancer.

Women who also had their first pregnancy at a young age also have a lower risk of contracting ovarian cancer, and women who have had their fallopian tubes blocked surgically also have lower risk.

Because the ovaries produce the estrogen and progesterone hormones that some cancers require to grow, ovary removal can halt or slow cancers that occur specifically in women (such as breast cancer).

In terms of genetic risk factors, carriers of some BRCA mutations have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. BRCA2 and BRCA1 gene mutations make up about 5% to 13% of ovarian cancers. Modern medicine allows women to understand their genetic risk factors more comprehensively so discuss this with your doctor.

Diagnosis
Initially your doctor will do a physical examination to determine if there are any masses or fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity. A blood test for ovarian cancer markers will also be conducted, that specifically looks for CA-125. An ultrasound may also be carried out.

For the diagnosis to be confirmed, surgery must be undertaken to take biopsies and inspect the abdominal cavity. Cancer cells will most likely be found in the abdominal fluid if a patient has ovarian cancer. The symptoms aren’t very useful in early stages of ovarian cancer because they can point to many other illnesses. Only at the later stages of ovarian cancer do the symptoms easily confirm ovarian cancer.

Prevention
Tubal ligation will drastically reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and some women who have a long family history of ovarian cancer may take this option. The use of oral contraceptives will halve the risk of ovarian cancer.

Regular screening and being attentive to the symptoms of ovarian cancer is one of the best ways to prevent the disease taking hold.

Treatment
Surgical treatment is an option for malignant tumors that are confined to the ovary. If the tumors are aggressive, surgery may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is often used after surgery to treat any tumors that are not easily removed during surgery and to stop any cancer cells spreading.

Radiation may be effective in the early stages of the illness, but due to the location of the ovaries it is not safe to use a high dose.

Unfortunately because of the difficulty in spotting the symptoms of ovarian cancer early on, prognosis is generally not good for ovarian cancer. More than 50% of women presenting with ovarian cancer are already stage III or stage IV (stage I and II being early development). By stage III and stage IV the cancer has already spread from the ovaries into other parts of the body.

Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer has a survival rate of over 80-95%, stage II has a range of 60-70%, stage III 30-45% and stage IV <20%.All up the survival rate for ovarian cancer at all stages is 47%. If caught before spreading the survival rate is 92%. The key with ovarian cancer, like many other forms of cancer, is to look at your family history, look for symptoms and get tested early!

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma


Mesothelioma is one of the rarest types of cancer that has unfortunately become more common in the past few decades. This type of cancer affects the mesothelium, which is a protective coating that lines the internal organs.

The illness has been more common in recent decades because one of the primary causes for this disease has been asbestos fibers becoming embedded in the lungs and leading to Mesothelioma of the lungs. Mesothelioma also commonly occurs in the pericardium (the lining on the heart) and the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity. The disease can also present in the tunica vaginalis, which is the coating that surrounds the testis.

With the industrialization of the world in the past century, thousands of workers have been exposed to chemicals and have inhaled some nasty substances. Asbestos is one of those nasty substances which can leave fibers lodged in the lungs that eventually lead to Mesothelioma. As the workers of the 1950’s and 1960s have gotten older, many of them have found themselves with this terrible condition.

It can often take a number of decades for the symptoms of Mesothelioma to present, and they are easy to misdiagnose. Because it was so rare, initially doctors commonly confused Mesothelioma with other illnesses involving the heart of the lungs.

The symptoms of Mesothelioma include shortness of breath, weight loss, fatigue, chest pain and wheezing. Some of those symptoms can be confused for emphysema or a heart condition. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include pleural effusion (a buildup of fluid between the layers of tissue that line the lungs and chest cavity) and blood clots.

Unfortunately Mesothelioma is often diagnosed very late in the disease’s progress because of that similarity to other illnesses. Life expectancy for people diagnosed with Mesothelioma is usually short – between a few months and a couple of years. There are treatments available including radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but prognosis is usually bad.

The best way to avoid this terrible disease is to avoid contact with substances like asbestos that can lead to it developing. For people who have already contracted the illness, it is advisable to contact a lawyer because much of the time a previous employer is responsible for contact with the noxious substances.