By Catherine Winters
JUNE 18 2017
Here's some good news: Death rates from cancer have dropped 25 percent over the past two decades, according to the American Cancer Society. And across the country and around the world, researchers are studying new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat the disease. "We already cure a lot of cancers," says Daniel F. Hayes, M.D., president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which presented new research at its annual meeting this month. "There is so much more hope than there used to be." Here is a sampling of the latest news in cancer research gathered from the ASCO meeting, medical journals and labs.
Head and Neck Cancer
People with head and neck cancer whose tumors have grown may live longer if they continue treatment with an immunotherapy drug that blocks a molecule that prevents T cells in the immune system from going after cancer cells, according to a recent study. Researchers are optimistic that immunotherapy, already showing promise for melanoma and lung cancer, could also lead to better outcomes for head and neck cancer patients.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are on the rise, especially in women, according to a recent study. From 2000 to 2010, diagnoses of basal cell skin cancer jumped 145 percent and those of squamous cell cancer soared by 263 percent compared to rates from 1976 to 1984—and the increase of basal cell carcinoma among women in their 30s and 40s was especially high. Sun exposure and tanning bed use are the likely culprits—even if UV exposure occurred years earlier.
"There is typically a delay between UV exposure and the development of skin cancer, so we may be starting to see the effects now," says researcher John G. Muzic, M.D., a dermatology resident at the Mayo Clinic. -We know what causes skin cancer, and preventive strategies are easy to implement, but we need to get everyone on board.- In the pipeline is a noninvasive
imaging test that may one day let doctors diagnose basal cell carcinoma as well as deadlier melanoma right away without a biopsy. The procedure, called multiphoton microscopy, uses short
pulses of laser light to obtain high-resolution images so a physician can quickly and accurately identify abnormal cells. While more research is needed, -we hope that in the next five years
this type of microscopic imaging at the bedside will become widely used,- says researcher Irene Georgakoudi, Ph.D., of the department of biomedical engineering at Tufts University.
People treated for stage III colon cancer who ate two or more ounces of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews or pecans per week lowered their chance of a recurrence by 42 percent and the likelihood of dying by 57 percent compared to people who didn't eat nuts, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston reported.
In another study, researchers found that over seven years, people who exercised the most and had the healthiest diets during and after treatment lowered their risk for death by 42 percent and for recurrence by 22 percent.
About one-fifth of pancreatic cancers evolve from cysts, but there's no easy way to determine if a cyst is benign, pre-cancerous or malignant. Even if a doctor suspects cancer, a biopsy detects only about half of pancreatic cancers. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston have developed a tool called light scattering spectroscopy that bounces light off the cyst, analyzing it for structural changes that may signal cancer. While more testing is needed, the technology "could potentially transform the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer by enabling doctors to confirm a malignancy quickly, early and noninvasively and follow cysts that could potentially become cancerous," says Lev T. Perelman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging and Photonics at Beth Israel.
A new blood test called IsoPSA is more accurate than the PSA test—which measures levels of a blood protein called prostate specific antigen—at finding prostate cancer and detecting more
advanced cancer, according to preliminary research.
While PSA levels are elevated in men with prostate cancer, PSA also can climb if a man has a benign condition, such as an inflamed or enlarged prostate, leading to unnecessary procedures including a biopsy. By contrast, the IsoPSA test detects structural changes in PSA protein that are associated with cancer. Though more research is needed, IsoPSA has the potential to slash the rate of unnecessary biopsies by almost half, say the researchers.
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