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.
Weight Loss Linked to Decreased Risk for Colon, Rectal Polyps
What’s New Overweight or obese people who lose more than 5 pounds over five years during adulthood have as much as a 46 percent reduced risk for developing precancerous colon polyps — benign growths in the colon or rectum that can lead to colorectal cancer, according to study findings published February 1 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Research Details Researchers assessed the link between weight change and colon and rectal polyps in 18,588 men and women participating in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening trial from 1993 to 2001. Study participants included people who had self-reported their weight at three time periods over the course of their lives. The case group consisted of 1,053 adults who developed polyps three to five years into the trial, and controls those who did not. Compared with participants whose weight remained stable, those who lost weight during early to late adulthood had a significantly reduced risk for developing polyps, especially if they were initially overweight (had a BMI of more than 25). On the other hand, people who gained weight over the study had a 1.3 times greater risk for developing polyps. The association appeared to be stronger in men compared with women.
Why This Matters For the first time, researchers have shown that avoiding weight gain during adulthood reduces the likelihood for developing precancerous growths that can lead to colorectal cancer. Benefits appear to be directly related to being overweight or obese.
New Treatment Identified for Recurrent, Low-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer
What’s New There’s a potential new standard of care to treat recurrent, low-grade serous ovarian cancer: Trametinib (Mekinist). Trametinib outperformed both chemotherapy and anti-estrogens like tamoxifen by roughly 52 percent, adding six months of progression-free (time during which the cancer didn’t advance) survival for patients, according to study findings published in the February 2022 issue of The Lancet.
Research Details Researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom compared once-daily oral trametinib with one of five standard of care regimens (either chemotherapy or anti-estrogen drugs) in 260 women with recurrent serous ovarian cancers who had previously received chemotherapy. At 15 months, participants taking trametinib had a fourfold greater response to therapy compared with standard care. Trametinib outperformed all standard of care options, halting disease progression by 13 months (versus seven months for standard treatment). Trametinib treatment does come with potentially serious side effects, including skin rash, anemia, high blood pressure, diarrhea, and fatigue.
Why This Matters Low-grade serous ovarian cancer is a relatively rare, hard-to-treat invasive form of ovarian cancer characterized by high hormone receptor activity, genetic mutations, and a poor response to chemotherapy. Until now, effective treatment options for women with low-grade serous ovarian cancer have been missing from the cancer toolbox. According to an editorial accompanying the study, 70 percent of these women will relapse and less than 5 percent will respond to repeat chemotherapy.
Risk for Severe Cancer Therapy Side Effects Higher in Women
What’s New Women appear to have a 34 percent increased risk of severe adverse events (AEs) from chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted cancer therapies compared with men, according to a study published online February 4 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The risk is even higher — 48 percent — among women who receive immunotherapy alone.
Research Details Researchers from the SWOG Cancer Network examined sex-specific AEs in over 23,000 patients enrolled in more than 200 cancer treatment studies from 1989 to 2020. Treatments included chemotherapy with or without radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapies (drugs that target changes or mutations in cells that cause them to become cancerous). Overall, about 65 percent of trial participants had experienced one or more severe AEs, but women had a 34 percent greater overall risk than men, with the greatest risk observed among women receiving immunotherapy.
Why This Matters Although researchers have not yet figured out why women appear to have more toxic reactions to cancer therapies than men, several theories exist. For example, there might be differences in the way women metabolize treatments in their bodies.
Daily Aspirin Offers No Benefit in Breast Cancer Survivors
What’s New Daily aspirin does not appear to prevent recurrence of invasive breast cancer, according to research presented February 17 at an American Society of Clinical Oncology’s online forum for reporting clinical trial data. In fact, study participants who took aspirin daily for 18 months appeared to have a 25 percent higher risk for recurrence versus those taking a placebo.
Research Details Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers compared the rate of recurrence in roughly 3,000 patients assigned to take 300 milligrams of aspirin or a placebo daily for five years. About two-thirds of participants were 50 years or older and were overweight. About 11 percent had been diagnosed with hormone receptor (HER)–negative breast cancer, while 86 percent were HER-positive and considered high-risk for recurrence. At 18 months, 191 participants — 107 assigned aspirin and 84 placebo — experienced recurrence or a new cancer, and 11 participants died.
Why This Matters Previous studies have suggested that aspirin might provide an anti-tumor effect but these results suggest that it does not appear to prevent breast cancer recurrence.
COVID-19 Vaccine Proven Safe for Cancer Patients in Large Trial
What’s New Cancer patients — including those on active treatment — can rest easy and get the jab. In one of the largest studies to date, Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers have demonstrated that short-term side effects associated with two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are similar between people with cancer histories or on active treatment and those without cancer. The research was published in the February 2022 issue of the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (JNCCN).
Research Details 2,033 participants who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks apart were asked to complete detailed surveys reporting any adverse events three weeks after the first dose and two weeks after the second dose. Roughly 66 percent of participants completing at least one survey had a history of cancer, and 18 percent of these participants were receiving active cancer treatment, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, other systemic therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone therapy. Overall, post vaccination symptoms were reported by 73 percent of patients with cancer versus 73 percent of noncancer patients.
Why This Matters Although this study only addresses short-term adverse effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in people with cancer, it should be reassuring. Most fully-vaccinated people will achieve protection against COVID-19 infections. Future studies will be needed to evaluate how long this protection lasts, and if there are any rare or longer-term side effects.
Most Americans Unaware of Alcohol-Cancer Link
What’s New Roughly one-third of Americans surveyed are unaware that alcohol increases the risk for cancer, while about 25 percent believe that it has no effect or actually decreases risk, according to a study published in the February 2020 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Research Details Among 3,865 American adults participating in the 2020 Health Information Trends Survey 5 Cycle 4, only about one-third were aware that alcohol increased cancer risk. Perception of risk varied slightly depending on what type of alcohol, with the greatest number believing that hard liquor might be a risk factor. Roughly half of respondents were nondrinkers, 20 percent reported drinking in the past 30 days, and 28 percent were heavier drinkers.
Why This Matters Drinking alcohol increases the risk for seven cancer types, including cancer of the breast, mouth, and colon, according to the American Cancer Society.