Looking back at this year’s discoveries and breakthroughs in the world of cancer care
By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
As we look back on 2019, each of us have had highs, and we’ve each had lows. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is how much our mental outlook has to do with our health. Its well documented that depression can have a profound negative effect on our immune systems. As cancer patients, survivors, thrivers, and care givers, goodness knows that we have plenty on our plate, and allowing ourselves to grieve is healthy. You can read about some of our contributors here in “Winning with Grief.”
But just like it is okay for us to let the grief take over sometimes, we must remember that we are allowed to be happy. We are allowed to feel joy. Just last week, my TimeHop app reminded me that ten years ago, on December 23, 2009, I was declared cancer free! It was the best Christmas gift ever. While we grieve for those we have lost, and those still struggling, it is okay to be happy for yourself! With that, I want to close out 2019 with some happy news – a snapshot of cancer victories from each month of 2019. Each and everyone of these milestones gets us one step closer to kicking some cancer bootie!
This one is fascinating. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have developed an artificial intelligence (computer) model that can visually identify cervical cancer from pap smear samples at a rate far superior to humans! In fact, the AI identified 91% of cancers, whereas the human scientists had an accuracy rate of 69%. Just imagine how this can assist with diagnoses, especially in areas that lack trained laboratory personnel!
February saw a bevy of activity by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with drug approvals, priority reviews, and orphan drug status approvals. This all meant potential good news for people dealing with multiple myelomas, acute myeloid leukemias, gastric cancers, and lung cancers.
Scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Center for Cancer Research may have found an answer to making immunotherapies for effective. Their research shows that when T-cells (cells in our immune system that are capable of killing cancers) are presented with high levels of potassium, they maintain stem-cell like qualities (or “stemness” as the researchers called it). This discovery gives scientists a reason to believe that the efficacy of immunotherapies can be increased by growing T-cells in the presence of high potassium.
In April, the FDA was at it again, approving therapies for the treatment of certain breast cancers, lung cancers, bladder cancer, and renal cell carcinoma.
In May, the CDC, the NCI, and the American Cancer Society published their annual report on the status of cancer in the United States. This report showed great news! From 1999 to 2016 the rate of deaths due to cancer has continued to decline among men, women and children. Additionally, the incidence of new cancer diagnoses in men has declined, while incidence in women has remained stable.
It turns out that brushing and flossing is good for more than just your smile! Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast found that poor oral health leads to a 75% increased risk of liver cancer. While doctors aren’t yet positive on how this could lead to the increased cancer risk, they feel that it may be related to disruptions in the balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
We all know that too much sugar is bad for us. Bad for our figures, bad for us in terms of diabetes. Now, researchers in France have linked the consumption of sugary drinks to breast cancer. The intake of 100ml of sugar laden beverages such as sodas, and even 100% fruit juices, was shown to increase the rate of breast cancer by as much as 22%! Sounds like a nice glass of unsweetened tea or water is the best choice!
This one sounds like science-fiction, but its really real! Researchers in New York, Michigan, and Texas are currently working on a method to kill cancer cells without the nasty side effects of chemo. Their method involves gold covered nanoparticles that are 50 times smaller than a red blood cell. After these particles are infused into the patient, the treatment team guides an ablation with that kills“…cancer cells by heating nanoshells with a low-power, near-infrared laser that could pass harmlessly through healthy tissue.” Of the 16 men treated for prostate cancer with this method, only two showed evidence of disease at a 1 year follow-up visit. While this undoubtedly needs further and much larger scale study, what a tremendous break-through!
Remember on Grey’s Anatomy when Dr. Webber creates the wand that identifies the presence of cancer with a simple touch? Pretty cool stuff. Well, scientists as the Stevens Institute of Technology are developing something similar. Their technique uses short wave rays that can detect skin cancer without a scalpel or laser needed! The better we get at non-invasive methods of detecting cancer, the better off we all will be!
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers, largely due to its aggressive and silent nature. In October, researchers at NYU have found that certain fungi can travel from the digestive tract up into the pancreas, and encourage the growth of pancreatic cancer. When these cancers were treated with an anti-fungal medication, their tumor weights decreased by 20-40%!
More good news for early detection! Researchers at the University of Nottingham have found a blood marker that could be used to diagnose breast cancer up to five years before clinical symptoms are seen. The marker is a product of the immune system’s interaction with cancer, and can be detected with a simple blood draw.
And now for some good news for the youngest of the cancer patients out there. Childhood leukemias are a nightmare for any parent and child, and relapse of these diseases is a sad and frequent reality. Doctors out of Johns Hopkins have found that treating recurrent B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia with the immunotherapy agent blinatumomab rather than standard chemotherapy had drastically better outcomes. These patients “…had longer survival, experienced fewer severe side effects, had a higher rate of undetectable residual disease, and were more likely to proceed to a stem cell transplant.”
It is vital for us to remember that the majority of these breakthroughs are still in clinical testing stages and are not commercially available; however, these discoveries give us all hope for earlier diagnoses, safer treatments, easier treatments, and happy outcomes.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!! I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for us!