News from Around the Globe

Research is constant.  Every day we are learning more about how to fight cancer in all of its forms.  Here are the latest news articles from some of the leading cancer organizations.  Check back often to stay up to date.

news from around the world

Photo by brotiN biswaS from Pexels

Stronger Than Cancer has shared these news articles for information purposes only.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

 

News digest – red and processed meat, DNA ‘fingerprints’, targeted leukaemia drugs and CRISPR

1 day 13 hours ago

Science blog

Even moderate consumption of red and processed meat increases bowel cancer risk

Processed and red meat hit headlines this week as our research linked moderate consumption to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. Our scientists in Oxford found that for every 10,000 people who ate 21g of red and processed meat a day, 40 were diagnosed with bowel cancer. Eating 76g of processed or red meat a day caused 8 extra bowel cancer cases. Follow this Twitter thread for more info.

Causes of cancer may leave ‘fingerprints’ on DNA

Scientists in Cambridge say they have catalogued the tell-tale damage that environmental triggers of cancer, like tobacco smoke, leave in cells’ DNA. The team told the Guardian that their lab technique allowed them to treat cancer DNA “like a crime scene” and pieced together “forensic evidence” to suggest what causes might be behind a developing tumour.

Experimental blood analysis might pick up early signs of breast cancer relapse

The Mail Online reports on a small study that tested using breast cancer patients’ blood samples as a possible way to detect if they’re at risk of their cancer coming back. In the study of 49 people, researchers say their experimental test spotted these signs of relapse before standard scans could. The team now need to test their experimental blood analysis on a larger group of people.

Three new cancer drugs available for NHS patients in Scotland

We reported that three cancer drugs have been approved for patients on the NHS in Scotland. This includes a drug for some patients with advanced liver cancer, and two drugs that can now be used for children with leukaemia.

Gene editing uncovers potential drug targets for aggressive brain tumours

A new gene editing study could help prioritise drug target research for an aggressive type of brain tumour called glioblastoma. The US team used the DNA editing tool CRISPR to uncover multiple potential weak spots in lab-grown brain tumour cells that could be used in the future as potential targets for drug development. We covered this one.

Alternative treatment option could spare some leukaemia patients chemo

Early results from a clinical trial suggest that two targeted cancer drugs could be a good treatment option for some people with a type of leukaemia called chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Taking these drugs may mean patients wouldn’t have to receive chemo, which could spare them from side effects. PharmaTimes has the details.

Twitter account highlights what’s often missing from science headlines

A new Twitter account is calling out misleading science reporting with the help of just two words, reports STAT News. @justsaysinmice is tweeting out links to news stories or press releases along with the words “IN MICE”, to highlight where headlines fail to mention the stage research is at. The scientist behind the account, James Heathers, hopes to raise awareness that findings from early lab research in mice doesn’t mean the same effects will be seen in people, which headlines often suggest.

And finally

Early research suggests one of the building blocks of proteins may have a hand in breast cancer treatment resistance. Researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US found a link between the resistance of breast cancer cells in the lab to the drug tamoxifen and an amino acid called leucine, which we have to get from our food because our bodies can’t make it. When they increased the amount of leucine around breast cancer cells in a dish, it helped them grow. The cancer cells were also unaffected by the drug tamoxifen. Although important early work, patients shouldn’t be altering their diet just yet as the researchers haven’t yet shown that the same happens in people with breast cancer.

Gabi

Read more

Vitamin D may help fight colorectal cancer

1 day 18 hours ago
A recent study concludes that when a person takes vitamin D alongside standard chemotherapy, it might reduce the growth rate of colorectal cancer.

Gene editing uncovers potential drug targets for aggressive brain tumours

2 days 7 hours ago

News report

Potential new drug targets for an aggressive type of brain tumour have been uncovered in the lab, thanks to a ‘reverse engineering’ approach using DNA editing.

Scientists from the University of Toronto, the Hospital for Sick Children, and the University of Calgary switched off genes, one by one, in specialised cancer stems cells using the DNA editing tool CRISPR. 

The stem cells came from patients with an aggressive type of brain tumour, called glioblastoma.

This early stage research, published in the journal Cell Reports, uncovered multiple weak spots in the lab-grown cells that could be used in the future as potential targets for drug development.

Dr Daniel Tennant, cancer biology expert from the University of Birmingham, said glioma stem cells are rare, aggressive brain tumour cells that could help the disease to return or become resistant to treatment. 

“Targeting these stem cells is difficult, as they share a number of characteristics with other important stem cells in the brain,” he said.

Identifying potential drug targets specific to these stem cells could focus research into targeted treatments that might limit damage to healthy cells in the brain.

What is ‘reverse engineering’?

This is the first published study to systematically profile and pin down what makes brain tumour stem cells tick using gene editing technology called CRISPR.

Using CRISPR, the team put the glioblastoma stem cells through ‘cell fitness screens’. The technique uses a pair of molecular ‘scissors’, which precisely snip and switch off target genes in the glioblastoma stem cells one by one, to see which helped the stem cells to survive and grow. 

Tennant said the team then “looked for proteins on glioma stem cells which are essential for them to live, but not essential for other stem cell types.” 

Even though glioblastoma tumours can look very different from patient to patient, the team found a total of 1,007 active genes in at least 6 out of 10 samples. These findings suggest there are a core set of genes that glioblastoma tumours rely on to survive. The researchers then ranked these target genes in order of importance to study in later drug development projects.

Just the start for making new drugs

Dr Noor Gammoh, a Cancer Research UK-funded brain tumour scientist from the University of Edinburgh, added that while the study is interesting, it’s just the starting point. 

“The main question that still haunts glioblastoma research is whether we can develop small molecules that can effectively reach the tumour and stop it growing.”

Tennant added that while this study is only the first step, it has already suggested a significant number of new targets that could be good candidates for further investigation. 

“Interestingly, they found proteins that appeared unique for the glioma stem cells, which in one case already has an experimental treatment designed against it,” he said. 

Read more

Science Surgery: ‘How do tumours ‘know’ where to spread?’

2 days 11 hours ago

Science blog

Our Science Surgery series answers your cancer science questions.

James asked: “How do tumours ‘know’ where to spread?”

“It’s hard to talk about tumours ‘knowing’ something,” says Professor Laura Machesky, an expert in how cancers spread at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow. “But it does seem like they know what they’re doing sometimes.”

This, Machesky says, is because cancers have “predictable patterns”, meaning certain cancers usually spread to particular parts of the body.

Breast cancer, for example, usually goes to places like the lungs, liver brain or bones if it spreads, whereas pancreatic cancer is more likely to spread to the liver.

“It makes it look like the cancer knows what it’s doing,” says Machesky. “But really we think that cancer cells are being randomly shed from the tumour – the cells come off and they get distributed around the body – and the majority of them die.”

A few of these free-wheeling tumour cells survive our bloodstream, finding a place to settle in another part of the body, if the conditions are right.

What do cancer cells need to spread?

When cancer cells break away from the tumour, they face a tough environment. There’s a good chance that they’ll be broken up by the flowing force of our bloodstream, like a raging river tossing a boat around.

But if the cells do survive this journey, they then need to land in welcoming place where there are nutrients, oxygen – and in a place where they’re protected from the immune system.

If they find all of these things, they may be able to survive in their new home in the body and form a secondary tumour.

“I like to think that, for example, if a million cells get out of a tumour and spread all around the body randomly then only a few of them will survive,” says Machesky.

This is often called the ‘seed and soil’ theory of cancer spread. The theory goes that cancer cells are like seeds being dotted around the body, but to grow and become a secondary tumour they need to find fertile soil to settle in.

And it seems that pancreatic cancer cells are somehow better able to settle and survive in the liver than in other places. But why?

Scientists think this could be down to sticky hooks found on the surface of cancer cells. These hooks act a bit like Velcro, allowing cells to latch on and stick in certain places in the body. Normal cells have these hooks too, allowing them to survive and form larger structures like organs where specific cell types stick together in an organised way.

And if different types of cancers have different hooks on their surface, they may find it easier to stick in different places.

But it might not be quite that simple. Scientists are beginning to discover that far from a game of chance, tumours might actually be able to alter tissues in other parts of the body, stacking the odds of survival in their favour.

Prepping the soil

“Tumours can cause changes around the body, not only at the site where they’re at,” says Machesky.

Take the example of a pancreatic tumour: “If you a tumour in your pancreas then there may be changes happening in the liver that make it easier for the tumour to spread there.”

One of the things that may help to prep the soil for tumour spread are tiny bubble-like structures called vesicles, which we’ve blogged about before. These microscopic blobs can break off from cancer cells and float around the body, carrying messages on their surface.

Machesky says these vesicles could help to prepare certain parts of the body for tumour spread. For example, the vesicles could signal to the liver to become a bit inflamed. This might cause the liver to have leaky blood vessels, allowing more oxygen into the tissue. And it’s the culmination of these changes that may help to create an environment that’s easier for spreading tumour cells to settle and grow in.

Stopping spread

Scientists have learnt a lot about how tumours spread. But Machesky thinks there’s still more to come. And a big problem with studying cancer spread is finding a way to recreate it in the lab.

“When we’re studying cancer spread, we’re talking about a few cells initially escaping from the primary site and sitting quietly in another place in the body and there isn’t a good model for this,” she says. “There isn’t a really clear way to see how to study it, so I think that’s one of the challenges.”

But while the problem isn’t simple, the benefits of understanding cancer spread could be big. Machesky says there’s a lot of excitement about developing ‘anti-spread’ treatments that target tumours’ likely second homes before the cancer has a chance to move. By making the sites unfavourable for tumours to survive, they may be able to stop the spread before it’s even started.

“That’s kind of hard to do because you don’t want to take someone with breast cancer whose successfully been treated and give them medicine that goes into their brain without thinking really carefully about the risk,” says Machesky.

Stopping cancer spread might be tricky, but it’s something that scientists are becoming increasingly interested in.

“In the early days we focused most of our efforts on the primary tumour,” says Machesky. “But now, we’re starting to think about how to target those sites where tumour cells might be hiding out.”

Katie

We’d like to thank James for asking this question. If you’d like to ask us something, post a comment below or email sciencesurgery@cancer.org.uk with your question and first name.

Read more

How Much Do Vitamin D Supplements Affect Lifespan?

2 days 13 hours ago
In 1822, a Polish physician was the first to publish that sunlight could cure the vitamin D deficiency disease rickets. His work was ignored by […]

Three cancer drugs cleared for NHS funding in Scotland

3 days 12 hours ago

News report

Three cancer drugs have been approved for patients on the NHS in Scotland. This includes a drug for some patients with advanced liver cancer, and two drugs that can now be used for children with leukaemia. 

The decisions were hailed as “great news” for people in Scotland who could benefit.

The fresh batch of decisions from the Scottish Medicines Consortium last week included the approval of a targeted liver cancer drug, lenvatinib (Lenvima), for patients with a rare type of liver cancer, called hepatocellular carcinoma.

Patients whose liver cancer cannot be removed surgically or has spread to other parts of the body will be eligible, after the drug was found to be as good as existing treatments at extending survival and to give more patients longer before their disease gets worse. 

The drug will only be used in patients who haven’t yet been treated with any treatment that reaches the tumour via the bloodstream.

Gordon Matheson, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Scotland, said that the decision means lenvatinib will now be available for some liver cancer patients who have few other options.

“The number of deaths from liver cancer in Scotland has increased over the last 10 years, and lenvatinib has been shown to offer some patients with this type of cancer more time before their disease progresses,” he said.

A new treatment for liver cancer

Lenvatinib is a targeted cancer drug that interferes with signals that help cancer cells grow. It’s used to treat some patients with thyroid or kidney cancer.

A clinical trial involving 954 patients with hepatocellular carincoma compared lenvatinib to another targeted drug called sorafenib (Nexavar). The trial was designed to test if lenvatinib was at least as good as sorafenib.

Patients taking lenvatinib lived for an average of 13.6 months after treatment, compared with 12.3 months for those taking sorafenib. And lenvatinib also doubled the time that patients lived without their cancer getting worse, from 3.7 months in those taking sorafenib to 7.4 months for patients taking lenvatinib.

The most common side effects for those taking lenvatinib were high blood pressure, diarrhoea, decreased appetite and decreased weight.

Lenvatinib was approved for NHS use in England in December 2018 by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).  NICE decisions are also adopted by Wales and Northern Ireland, so lenvatinib should be available for eligible patients there too.

Decisions about which drugs the NHS should pay for in Scotland are made separately by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC).

New options for children with leukaemia

The SMC also approved two drugs for some children and young adults with leukaemia. Both drugs – blinatumomab (Blincyto) and dasatinib (Sprycel) – are already approved to treat adults with the same disease profiles.

Blinatumomab will now be an option for patients over the age of 1 who have a specific type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Patient’s cancer cells would need to test positive for the molecule CD19 and not have a change in their DNA called the Philadelphia chromosome.

The drug will only be available for patients whose cancer has not responded to or come back after at least two treatments or a stem cell transplantation.

Blinatumomab works by bringing leukaemia cells into close contact with immune cells, allowing the immune system to more effectively kill the cancer cells.  In a trial involving 70 children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, blinatumomab led to all signs of the disease disappearing in almost 4 in 10 children (39%). It was not compared with any other treatments in the trial.

The most common severe side effects were iron deficiency, low platelet counts and low potassium levels.

The second drug, dasatinib, was given the green light for some children with a type of blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). The drug is designed for patients whose cancer cells don’t carry the Philadelphia chromosome. 

It will be available to children and young adults in Scotland who have just been diagnosed or who could not use other treatments like imatinib (Glivec), or whose cancer has become resistant to the treatment.

In a trial involving 113 patients under the age of 18, around 8 in 10 patients (78%) who had previous treatment, and around 9 in 10 (93%) patients who hadn’t had previous treatment, were alive without their cancer getting worse 4 years after treatment. The treatment wasn’t compared to any other drugs in the trial. 

“This will be very welcome news for young patients and their families,” said Matheson. 

Both dasatinib and blinatumomab are available on the NHS in England and Wales to treat some adults with leukaemia.

Read more

Even moderate red and processed meat eaters at risk of bowel cancer

3 days 21 hours ago

Press release

People who eat red and processed meat within department of health guidelines are still at increased risk of bowel cancer, according to a study jointly funded by Cancer Research UK* and published today (Wednesday 17 April) in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

“The government guidelines on red and processed meat are general health advice and this study is a reminder that the more you can cut down beyond this, the more you can lower your chances of developing bowel cancer” - Dr Julie Sharp

Scientists have shown that people eating around 76g of red and processed meat a day** - which is roughly in line with government recommendations*** - still had a 20% higher chance of developing bowel cancer than those who only ate about 21g a day.

One in 15 men and 1 in 18 women born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime****. This study found that risk rose 20% with every 25g of processed meat (roughly equivalent to a rasher of bacon or slice of ham) people ate per day, and 19% with every 50g of red meat (a thick slice of roast beef or the edible bit of a lamb chop).

Cancer Research UK’s expert in diet and cancer, Professor Tim Key, who co-authored the study and is deputy director at the University of Oxford’s cancer epidemiology unit, said: “Our results strongly suggest that people who eat red and processed meat four or more times a week have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than those who eat red and processed meat less than twice a week.

“There’s substantial evidence that red and processed meat are linked to bowel cancer, and the World Health Organisation classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic – but most previous research looked at people in the 1990s or earlier, and diets have changed significantly since then, so our study gives a more up-to-date insight that is relevant to meat consumption today.”

Prof Key and co-authors Dr Kathryn Bradbury and Dr Neil Murphy studied the diets of nearly half a million British men and women, aged 40 to 69 when the research began, over more than five years – during which time 2,609 of them developed bowel cancer.

Existing evidence points to an increased bowel cancer risk for every 50g of processed meat a person eats per day, but this research found that risk increases at just 25g per day, showing a similar rise in risk at smaller intervals. This is one of the largest single studies in the field and one of few to measure meat quantities and associated risks so precisely.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “The government guidelines on red and processed meat are general health advice and this study is a reminder that the more you can cut down beyond this, the more you can lower your chances of developing bowel cancer.

“This doesn't necessarily mean cutting out red and processed meat entirely, but you may want to think about simple ways to reduce how much you have and how often. Although breaking habits we’ve had for a long time can be hard, it’s never too late to make healthy changes to our diet. You could try doing meat free Mondays, looking for recipes using fresh chicken and fish, or swapping meat for pulses like beans and lentils in your usual meals.”

Read more