Cancer News Digest: The Latest Developments in Cancer Research and Treatment for October 2020

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.

Few Men With Prostate Cancer Receive the Recommended Bone-Density Testing

What’s New Fewer than one-quarter of patients with prostate cancer who are treated with the hormone therapy known as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) received the recommended bone-density testing as part of their care, according to a study published in the October 2020 issue of the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Research Details The study, from scientists at McGill University in Montreal, analyzed data from more than 22,000 people with prostate cancer who began receiving ADT between 2000 and 2015. Just 17.8 percent of the patients received a bone mineral density test at any point during the study period. Only 23.4 percent were tested in 2015 — an increase of 4.1 percent over 2000. People age 80 and older and those living in rural areas were the least likely to receive screening.

Why It Matters ADT is a common and highly recommended form of treatment for many people with advanced or high-risk prostate cancer, the authors noted. However, bone-density testing is recommended for those who receive the therapy because it can result in osteoporosis and bone fractures. Those side effects can be prevented with diagnosis and treatment with medications that improve bone density. “Although we expected [bone mineral density] testing rates to be fairly low given the prior literature, we were somewhat surprised that they didn’t go up more in recent years,” said Alice Dragomir, PhD, the senior author of the paper.

RELATED: New Guidelines Released for Osteoporosis Therapy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Cryotherapy Is an Effective Form of Treatment for Some Prostate Cancers

What’s New Cryotherapy, a less-invasive treatment in which a tumor is frozen rather than surgically removed or treated with radiation, has a high rate of successfully controlling prostate cancer, according to a study published in the November 2020 isue of The Journal of Urology.

Research Details Researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles looked at the effectiveness of cryoablation in 61 people with grade 2 or higher prostate cancer that involved one side of the prostate gland. Biopsies were performed in all patients six months after cryoablation treatment, and 27 patients had additional biopsies after 18 months. No evidence of cancer was found in 82 percent of the study participants. Cryoablation also helped control cancer growth in six patients with higher-grade cancers.

Why It Matters Cryotherapy for prostate cancer is a newer approach to therapy that has the advantage of being less invasive than surgery or radiation. While already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the study contributes information on the longer-term success of the procedure. Side effects and complications linked to the treatment were judged to be minor and temporary. The authors noted that use of a follow-up biopsy is the most important criterion for success.

RELATED: Everyday Health’s Prostate Cancer Awareness Month Twitter Chat: Here’s What You Missed

Breastfeeding Is Possible for Breast Cancer Survivors

What’s New Breast cancer survivors can often successfully breastfeed their babies, according a study published online in September 2020 in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

Research Details Researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey conducted a review of 13 previous studies examining breastfeeding rates among reproductive-age breast cancer survivors. They found that many survivors attempted breastfeeding. Those who reported being successful with breastfeeding were more likely to feed from the breast that was unaffected by cancer. They also said they had support from multiples sources and relied on lactation consultants. The most common challenges to breastfeeding were difficulties with the latch, reduced milk production, and breast pain.

Why It Matters The study affirms the possibility of successful breastfeeding among reproductive-age breast cancer survivors but points to the need for support and advice from experts in prenatal and postpartum care.

RELATED: Here’s Why COVID-19 Is Triggering for Cancer Survivors

Non-English Speakers Are Less Likely to Get Mammograms

What’s New Women living in the United States who have limited English-language proficiency are less likely to receive mammograms, according to a study presented October 3 at the American College of Surgeons' 2020 Clinical Congress.

Research Details The study, from the University of Illinois at Chicago/Metropolitan Group Hospitals, analyzed data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. Among 9,653 women age 40 to 75, about 1,040 had limited English proficiency, and most of those women spoke only Spanish. Their overall rate of screening mammograms was 78 percent versus 90 percent for English speakers.

Why It Matters Regular mammography reduces the rate of diagnoses of advanced and fatal breast cancers, the authors said. Lack of English proficiently may hamper access to mammography. Moreover, some of these women may have misconceptions or fears around mammography. More effort is needed to provide educational information on mammography in Spanish and other languages, they said. “It is important because approximately 67 million people in the United States speak a language other than English, and 41 million of those speak Spanish,” said lead study investigator Jose L. Cataneo, MD, a general surgery resident at the University of Illinois at Chicago/Metropolitan Group Hospitals.

Personalized Cancer Treatment Results in Better Outcomes

What’s New Patients who received treatment based on the personalized molecular characteristics of their tumors survived longer or had a longer period during which their disease did not progress, compared with other patients, according to a study published October 2 in Nature Communications.

Research Details Researchers from Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health conducted a study of 429 patients with cancer who were evaluated by a tumor board to advise physicians on treatments that would target molecular features of tumors. Of the patients, 62 percent were matched to at least one drug. In 38 percent of those cases, the patients’ physicians opted for a standard therapy approach instead of using therapies based on the tumor board’s recommendation. The three-year survival rate for patients who received therapy related to their tumor’s molecular characteristics was approximately 55 percent, compared with 25 percent in patients who received more standard therapy.

Why It Matters Personalized, or precision, cancer therapy can benefit many people with cancer, but the approach has challenges, the authors said, including the need for multidisciplinary expertise to advise on potential therapies as well as access to targeted therapy drugs and clinical trials.

Urine-Based Liquid Biopsy Is Superior for Detecting Bladder Cancer

What’s New A new type of test that detects DNA from cancer cells in urine is better at detecting some bladder cancers than the traditional test known as urine cytology, according to a study published in the November 2020 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

Research Details The study, from researchers at Changhai Hospital in Shanghai, looked at 95 people, including 56 with bladder cancer. When compared with urine cytology, the liquid biopsy test had higher sensitivity (the ability to detect cancer in all individuals) — 80.4 percent versus 33.9 percent for urine cytology — and comparable specificity (the number of people correctly identified as not having cancer).

Why It Matters Liquid biopsy appears superior for detecting bladder cancer, especially low-grade bladder cancer, the authors said. Moreover, the test is noninvasive, unlike cystoscopy. “Urine cytology, which is widely used to screen for bladder cancer, has high specificity but lacks sensitivity, especially for low-grade cancers,” said Chuan-Liang Xu, MD, PhD, a urologist at Changhai Hospital. “Cystoscopy, while more accurate than cytology, is an invasive procedure with added costs and potential complications for the patient. Therefore, an inexpensive, noninvasive test for the detection and monitoring of bladder cancer is an unmet clinical need.”

RELATED: Kidney and Bladder Cancer Breakthroughs Among Top ESMO 2020 News

Early-Phase Trial Indicates Benefits of Combination Therapy for Bladder Cancer

What’s New A combination of immune checkpoint inhibitor drugs administered prior to surgery was well-tolerated and showed signs of activity in patients with bladder cancer who did not have other treatment options, according to a phase I study published October 12 in Nature Medicine.

Research Details Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center enrolled 28 patients in the trial. The patients were ineligible to receive cisplatin-based chemotherapy and had high-risk bladder cancer. They were given the investigational medication tremelimumab, an anti-CTLA-4, and Imfinzi (durvalumab), an anti-PD-L1 drug. Among those, 24 went on to have surgery, and nine of those patients had no signs of cancer at the time of surgery. In 12 other patients with large tumors, half saw their tumor size reduced.

Why It Matters Up to half of all people with bladder cancer cannot receive the most common chemotherapy used for this disease because of factors such as poor kidney function, heart failure, or other ailments. This is the first study of immunotherapy prior to surgery involving a combination of immunotherapy drugs in people with bladder cancer who are not eligible for chemotherapy. “Immune checkpoint therapy has clearly revolutionized cancer care with patients with metastatic disease in multiple tumor types, but we continue to work toward moving these therapies into earlier disease settings for patients in need,” said corresponding author Padmanee Sharma, MD, PhD, professor of genitourinary medical oncology and immunology.

RELATED: Cancer News From ASCO-II 2020: Using Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy Earlier Yields Big Payoffs for Patients

Drug Shows Efficacy for Advanced Head and Neck Cancer

What’s New A phase 2 study of the drug Inlyta (axitinib) extended the lives of patients with head and neck cancer by several months, according to research published October 20 in the journal Cancer.

Research Details The study involved 28 patients with disease that had progressed after standard treatments for head and neck cancer. Use of the drug increased survival time from less than six months to almost 10 months. Patients with a gene mutation known as the PI3K signaling pathway mutation had the best response.

Why It Matters Inlyta, which is already approved to treat advanced kidney cancer, is a type of medication known as a tyrosine kinase inhibitor. The drugs have been used in combination with immunotherapy medications. More therapies are needed for patients with advanced head and neck cancer, the authors note. “These are patients with metastatic cancer for whom there are no good options outside of clinical trials,” says study first author Paul Swiecicki, MD, of the academic medical center Michigan Medicine.

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