Latest Developments in Cancer Research and Treatment for July

News breaks in the cancer arena all the time. Sometimes it’s big — like word that a breakthrough drug has increased survival for a hard-to-treat cancer. Sometimes it’s smaller. Any of it may matter to you and your family as you navigate your cancer journey. We do our best to keep you up-to-date with a monthly roundup of some of the most significant recent cancer news.

More Evidence That Alcohol Is Triggering a Rise in Cancer

What's new Alcohol consumption accounted for roughly 4 percent of all new cancers worldwide in 2020, according to a population study published online July 13 in the journal Lancet Oncology.

Research details A growing body of evidence has linked alcohol consumption with increased cancer risk. In this study, researchers assessed estimated global alcohol consumption, risks of alcohol for specific cancer types, and global incidence of those cancers in 2020. Findings showed that drinking contributed to 741,300 cases of newly diagnosed esophageal, mouth, larynx, colon, rectum, liver, and breast cancer. Moderate drinking (<.70 ounces per day) contributed to nearly 14 percent (103,100) of cases, while risky drinking (.70 to 2.11 ounces per day) contributed to about 39 percent (29,800) of cases, and heavy drinking (>2.11 ounces per day) contributed to about 48 percent (227,900) of cases. The highest frequency of cancers were seen in men, with the majority of cases being esophageal cancer.

Why it matters Excessive alcohol consumption has increasingly been identified as an important driver of cancer, but alcohol is also one of the most modifiable cancer risk factors. People who drink excessively may wish to speak to their clinicians about strategies for cutting back, especially those with a family history of cancer.

RELATED: 5 Things Drinking Too Much Alcohol May Be Doing to Your Body

Close Monitoring May Be Best for Low-Risk Prostate Cancer

What’s new Findings from two studies presented at this year’s European Association of Urology Congress underscore the important role played by close monitoring (also known as “active surveillance”), in which patients receive regular testing and diagnostic exams to monitor the progression of their disease before initiating invasive treatment in the management of low-risk prostate cancer, especially in men older than 60. The data showed improvements in quality of life for these men, and they experienced fewer problems with sexual function, which can be impaired by treatment.

Research details In the first study, Swedish researchers developed a computerized modeling exercise to examine the long-term safety of active surveillance in 23,649 men with prostate cancer. The findings showed that only a small proportion of men over age 70 died before age 85, including those determined to have very low risk, low risk, or intermediate risk prostate cancer. The largest benefit was seen in men older than 65 with low risk prostate cancer. In the second study, Belgian researchers invited 2,943 men with prostate cancer with a median age of 71 who were currently undergoing treatment or had done so in the past to participate in an online survey. In the study, 71 percent of men who received more aggressive treatments (radical prostatectomy, radiation, radiation with hormone deprivation therapy) reported very poor to poor ability to reach an erection, versus 45 percent of men on active surveillance. Other indicators of sexual function were also better in men who were on active surveillance.

Why it matters Depending on age at diagnosis, active surveillance may be the best option for men with low-risk prostate cancer, conferring the least amount of impact on sexual function and little or no impact on risk of dying of prostate cancer.

RELATED: What Is the Prostate? A Guide to Its Form and Function and Some Common Problems

Heart Failure Tied to Higher Cancer Incidence

What’s new People with heart failure appear to have a significantly increased incidence of cancer, although researchers are unclear as to the exact reason for the association, according to a study published online June 27 in ESC Heart Failure journal.

Research details German researchers assessed cancer incidence in 100,124 patients with a diagnosis of heart failure compared with 100,124 without the disease between January 2000 and December 2018. Participants’ mean age was 72.6 years, and 54 percent were women. During the observation period, findings showed that 25.7 percent of patients with heart failure were also diagnosed with cancer, compared with 16.2 percent of patients without heart failure. By cancer type, heart failure patients had roughly twice the risk of lip, oral, or throat cancers, about a 91 percent increased risk of respiratory cancers, and an 86 percent and 52 percent greater risk of genital cancers in women and men, respectively. Patients suffering from heart failure also had an 83 percent greater incidence of skin cancer, a 77 percent greater risk of lymph and blood cancers, a 75 percent increased risk of digestive tract cancers, and a 67 percent higher risk of breast cancer.

Why it matters The data show a significantly increased incidence of many cancer types in patients with heart failure. More intense cancer screening might be in order for these patients, but patients should discuss a plan with their doctor that's based on individual risk factors and comorbid conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, which also increase the risk of both heart failure and cancer, as well as other lifestyle factors that might contribute to cancer risk.

RELATED: Food Rx: A Cancer Expert Shares What He Eats in a Day

Plant-Based Diet Is Linked to Reduced Breast Cancer Risk

What’s new Adherence to a high-quality plant-based diet may lower a person's total risk of breast cancer, independent of body weight or intake of dietary fiber or carotenoids (organic pigments believed to reduce disease risk), according to research published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Research details Researchers assessed adherence to an overall plant-based diet index (PDI) consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea or coffee, a healthful PDI (hPDI), which included the prior list plus fruit juices, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes, and sweets, and an unhealthful PDI (uPDI), which also included animal fats, dairy, eggs, fish or seafood, and meat, in 76,690 women participating in the ongoing Nurses Health Study (NHS) and 93,295 participants in the ongoing Nurses Health Study II (NHSII). Participants were asked to complete food-frequency questionnaires regarding intake of the 18 food groups every four years. Breast cancer incidence (self-reported every two years) was also reviewed. Overall, 12,482 women developed invasive breast cancer. Women who reported consistent intake of a plant-based diet or a healthful plant-based diet had an 11 percent decreased risk of breast cancer, regardless of their weight or their intake of carotenoids or fiber. Those who were most adherent to a plant-based diet had a 23 percent reduced risk of developing more aggressive, ER-negative breast cancer specifically. But women who consumed the most unhealthful version of the diet consistently had a 28 percent increased risk of ER-negative breast cancer.

Why it matters While previous studies have suggested a relationship between a healthier diet and reduced breast cancer risk, research findings have been mostly inconsistent. This study is large, and while it is based on self-reports, which are fallible, it suggests that diet quality and consistency may confer important benefits in terms of reducing the risk of breast cancer.

RELATED: 10 Great Cookbooks for Anyone on a Plant-Based Diet

New Drug Combination Treatment Approved for Advanced Uterine Cancer

What’s new The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported full approval of combination Keytruda (pembrolizumab) and Lenvima (lenvatinib) for treatment of advanced uterine cancer (also called endometrial cancer), according to the drugs’ manufacturers. The novel treatment combination has been shown in clinical trials to shrink tumors and improve survival in women with a certain type of advanced uterine cancer that is unresponsive to systemic therapy and ineligible for curative surgery or radiation.

Research details Full approval was based on a phase 3 study in a subgroup of 697 women who received 200 milligrams (mg) of Keytruda intravenously every three weeks for up to 35 cycles plus 20 mg of Lenvima orally once daily, or chemotherapy. Study participants had a certain type of advanced uterine cancer that is not associated with cancer cells that have high numbers of mutations in short DNA sequences called microsatellites (also known as microsatellite-instability-high), and not associated with cancer cells that have mutations in genes involved in correcting mistakes in DNA copies (also known as mismatch repair deficient). Findings showed that women taking Ketruda-Lenvima had a 32 percent reduction in their risk of dying, and a 40 percent reduction in both risk of disease progression and death (called “progression-free survival”) compared with those treated with chemotherapy. The combination treatment also helped partially shrink tumors in 28 percent of women, according to the manufacturer’s website.

Why it matters Uterine cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in U.S. women. When caught early, it has an 81 percent survival rate, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Only 17 percent of women with advanced uterine cancer survive the disease. What’s more, women whose cancer is not a candidate for curative surgery or radiation, or that progresses despite treatment, have few treatment options. The new treatment combination is a promising strategy for women whose options were previously limited.

RELATED: FDA Watch: J&J Vaccinations Resume, Fake COVID-19 Therapies, Uterine Cancer Drug Fast-Tracked, Brie Cheese Recalls Over Salmonella Concern

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