The Latest Developments in Cancer Research and Treatment for October 2021

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.

Saliva Testing: The Wave of the Future for HPV-Related Head and Neck Cancer Screening?

What’s new A test for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in saliva might be a way to significantly improve early detection of head and neck cancer (HNC), according to research published September 21 in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. Not all HNC is related to HPV, but HPV-related HNC is on the rise in the United States.

Research details Australian researchers performed saliva testing on 491 patients with newly diagnosed HNC and 10 with recurrent HNC to determine if saliva was an effective biomarker for these types of cancers, and specifically, for survival patterns in patients with throat cancer. Study participants were followed for up to five years. Of the study participants, 43 percent provided samples that were positive for high-risk HPV. Patients with positive high-risk-HPV saliva tests tended to be slightly younger (60 versus 62 years old).

Why it matters Typically, these types of cancers are caught at more advanced stages. Early detection, however, yields increases in five-year survival by as much as 20 percent according to recent data from the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Cancer.Net site. Saliva-based testing “has the potential to be transformative,” said the study’s co-investigator in a related press release, not only in terms of early detection but in personalizing treatment and assessing prognosis.

Chemotherapy May Dull Immune Response to COVID-19 Vaccine

What’s new Chemotherapy appears to affect the ability of a cancer patient to generate antibodies after the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a study published September 30 in JAMA Oncology.

Research details A team of researchers from Austria and Italy studied antibody production following COVID-19 vaccination in 595 patients with cancer who were receiving chemotherapy with or without immunotherapy and compared them with healthy adults. (Most patients had lung, breast, or blood cancer.) All study participants developed antibodies against the SARS-COV-2 virus following the first dose, and higher levels after the second dose. But patients with cancer who received chemotherapy alone or in combination with immunotherapy had impaired antibody production. In addition, patients with blood cancers who received immunotherapy that targeted B cells produced the lowest levels of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

Why it matters COVID-19 vaccination is recommended in people with immunocompromised conditions like cancer. But study findings suggest that some cancer treatments prevent full production of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The new research underscores the need to speak with your doctor about booster shots and whether and how aggressively to continue to take measures shown to protect against disease, such as regular COVID-19 testing, masks, and social distancing during active treatment.

New Breast Cancer Risk Prediction Tool for Black American Women

What’s new A new, personalized breast cancer prediction model predicts risk in Black American women as accurately as the most frequently used questionnaire-based breast cancer risk prediction models used in white women, according to a study published October 8 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Research details Researchers collated data from three case-controlled studies among 6,578 U.S. Black American women between ages 30 and 69 plus age-/race-specific breast cancer incidence and death rates to develop a risk prediction tool. The model was then validated using data from 51,798 women participating in the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study over 15 years. During those years, 1,515 women enrolled in the study developed invasive breast cancer. Risk factors included age, first-degree family history, breast biopsy, five or more years of oral contraceptive use, early menstruation, and lack of breastfeeding. Study findings showed that the new model was able to accurately predict women who would develop breast cancer over the next five years compared with models developed for white women. It was most accurate for Black women younger than 40.

Why it matters Given the rate of early-onset breast cancer and breast cancer mortality rates in Black American women, accurate risk prediction tools are long overdue. This novel tool provides an opportunity for Black American women to close existing gaps in care and treatment and make earlier decisions about risk reduction strategies.

Nut Consumption May Cut Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

What’s new Eating slightly more than half an ounce of nuts a week may halve the risk for breast cancer recurrence, metastasis, or death, according to research published October 19 in the International Journal of Breast Cancer.

Research details Chinese researchers examined dietary habits and other lifestyle factors among 3,575 women enrolled in a study of breast cancer survivors, all of whom had completed detailed food frequency questionnaires five years after first being diagnosed. Over a median follow-up of 8.27 years, there were 347 deaths from any cause, and 252 deaths from breast cancer. Ten years after receiving their initial breast cancer diagnosis, women who reported consuming just over a half an ounce of nuts (including peanuts, walnuts, and other nuts) had a 52 percent lower risk recurrence of their cancer, advanced cancer, or breast cancer-specific death compared with women who did not report eating nuts. Overall survival appeared to be even greater among women who consumed more than half an ounce of nuts a week compared with women who did not eat nuts.

Why it matters This is the first study to demonstrate an association between nut consumption and improved outcomes in breast cancer.

Many Sunscreens Do Not Provide the UV Protection Claimed

What’s new Laboratory findings show that many of the currently available sunscreens in the United States contain sun protection factor (SPF) values lower than what’s stated on their labels, according to a study published October 3 in Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Phytomedicine Journal.

Research details Researchers from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed 51 sunscreens with a labeled SPF between 15 and 110 for their ability to protect against ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. All products were lotions, and selection was based on active ingredients, SPF values, and dedicated shelf space. Not only did the products fall well below the anticipated degree of protection, most offered just 42 to 59 percent of the labeled SPF value.

Why it matters Skin cancer is the most diagnosed in the United States and is on the rise, according to the American Cancer Society. While the majority of these cancers are the less dangerous basal and squamous cell types, melanoma accounts for most skin cancer deaths. Sunscreen is one of the most effective tools for reducing exposure to UV rays that lead to cancer. EWG has an online reference tool so you can look for safe and effective sunscreens that live up to their label claims before you buy.

New Trial Tests Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Vaccine

What’s new Cleveland Clinic researchers have started recruitment for a new clinical trial aimed at testing a vaccine to prevent triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive and lethal form of the disease.

Research details This phase 1 study is designed to test and determine the maximum tolerated dose and immune responses of the vaccine in 18 to 24 participants who’ve completed treatment for early-stage triple-negative breast cancer, are tumor-free, and are at high risk of recurrence. All study participants will receive three vaccine doses two weeks apart, and be closely monitored for side effects. The vaccine targets a protein (ɑ-lactalbumin) associated with the production of breast milk during breast-feeding, and that is also present in the majority of triple-negative cancers. Research in laboratory mice has shown that activating the immune system to act against this protein creates a proactive strike against emerging breast tumors and helps prevent their growth.

Why it matters Triple-negative breast cancer is difficult to treat because it does not carry as many targets vulnerable to available cancer treatments.

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