Latest Developments in Cancer Research and Treatment for April 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.

Which Cancers Will Dominate or Cause the Most Deaths in 20 Years?

What’s new The leading cancer types and their outcomes are predicted to greatly shift by 2040, according to a study published April 7 in JAMA Network Open.

Research details Researchers combined current cancer incidence, U.S. Census population projections, and death rates to determine how the cancer landscape might change over the next two decades. Findings showed that by 2040, breast cancer would remain the most common cancer type, followed by melanoma, lung cancer, and colon cancer. The leading cancers in 2020 are cancer of the breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer. Declines are expected in incidence of prostate cancer by 2040 and breast cancer deaths are also expected to decline. The most common cause of cancer-related death, in 20 years, will likely remain lung cancer, followed by pancreatic cancer, liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer, and colon cancer.

Why it matters Researchers warn that the reported trends are not “ironclad,” but they do underscore the value of screening in catching cancers early when they are potentially most treatable. For now, adults should speak with their practitioners about their risk and develop a screening schedule based on that information and personal preference.

RELATED: Updated Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines: More Americans Should Be Screened at a Younger Age, Say Experts

Small Trial of Experimental, Personalized Cancer Vaccine Shows Benefit

What’s new An experimental, personalized vaccine appears to be safe and possibly beneficial, according to research presented on April 10 at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.

Research details Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC sequenced the genes from tumors in 15 cancer patients who had undergone surgery (for solid tumors) or stem cell transplantation (for multiple myeloma). All patients had a greater than 30 percent chance of recurrence. The researchers identified neoantigens, molecules unique to each patient’s tumor, capable of stimulating an immune response. At roughly 2.5 years, four patients had no evidence of cancer, four were receiving more treatment, four died, and one chose not to continue the trial. Bloodwork from one representative patient showed an immune response (indicating that the vaccine was working), and two had robust responses to subsequent immunotherapy.

Why it matters Although the cancer vaccine is in the early stages, the study findings suggest that tailoring vaccines to each person’s tumor may help prevent certain cancers from recurring.

RELATED: Does Cancer Immunotherapy Worsen COVID-19 Outcomes?

Grandmothers’ Exposure to DDT Insecticide Increases Granddaughters’ Breast Cancer Risk

What’s new A grandmother’s exposure to the insecticide DDT leads to more obesity and earlier menstruation (younger than 11 years) in granddaughters, both factors that increase breast cancer risk. Study findings were published online April 14 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Research details Blood samples to test DDT levels were collected from pregnant women who participated in the Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) from 1959 to 1967. Blood samples were also collected from the women after they gave birth. The researchers then visited 365 adult granddaughters who had completed a questionnaire, possessed their grandmothers’ original DDT test results, and who had information on body mass index (BMI) and age at menstruation across three generations. Study findings showed that granddaughters had two to three times greater odds for obesity, and two times greater odds for earlier menopause, if their grandmothers had higher blood DDT blood levels.

Why it matters CHDS studies have previously linked DDT exposure during pregnancy or immediately after birth to increased breast cancer risk and prevalence of risk factors in female offspring. These new findings build upon that evidence and suggest that prior DDT exposures may have transgenerational effects, including increased obesity rates, younger age at first menstruation, and possibly an uptick in breast cancer. For now, the granddaughter cohort is too young to firmly establish breast cancer risk, but researchers suggest that the impact cannot be ruled out.

RELATED: Weight Loss Apps Will Likely Help You Shed Pounds, an Analysis Finds

Breast Cancer Treatment Can Be Safely Reduced in Older Women

What’s new A study published in the April issue of JAMA Network Open underscores that cancer treatment may be safely reduced in older women with early-stage estrogen receptor-positive node-negative (HR-positive/HER-2 negative) breast cancer. This subtype of breast cancer makes up about 50 percent of all metastatic breast cancers in women.

Research details Researchers from the UMPC-Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh examined cancer registry and electronic health record data from more than 3,000 women older than 70 who had been diagnosed with HR-positive/HER-2 negative cancer between 2010 and 2018. Findings showed that 65.3 percent of women had received sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), a procedure in which a surgeon removes underarm lymph nodes to learn if the cancer has spread beyond the breast. In addition, 54.4 percent of the women received radiotherapy (RT), which is often given to kill residual cancer cells. Over the study period, SLNB rates increased steadily by about 1 percent per year, while RT rates declined by 3.4 percent yearly. Neither procedure had an impact on disease recurrence or survival, though, regardless of how advanced the tumor was or whether other health conditions were present.

Why it matters Breast cancer incidence in older patients is likely to increase as the U.S. population ages. To avoid overtreatment, the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Choosing Wisely Campaign and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Breast Cancer Guidelines caution against routine SLNB in older women with early-stage HR-positive/HER-2-negative breast cancer. The UMPC study findings emphasize that these procedures can be safely “de-escalated” without affecting quality of life or outcomes in women over age 70.

RELATED: When to Worry About Breast Lumps

Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Increases Oral Cancer Risk

What’s new People exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke have as much as a 51 percent increased risk of developing oral cancer, according to a review published online April 26 in Tobacco Control.

Research details Researchers reviewed five studies that had enrolled 6,977 people from Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America, and Europe. Roughly half (3,452) had been exposed to secondhand smoke. Not only did the exposed participants have a 51 percent increased risk for developing oral cancer, but the longer the exposure to secondhand smoke, the greater the risk.

Why it matters Oral cancers, which can affect the lips, the inside of the mouth, and the throat, affect roughly 450,000 people worldwide, and about 54,000 people in the United States. Risk factors include smoking, alcohol consumption, male gender, being over age 50, and possibly sun exposure. These new findings provide evidence of a potential additional risk factor. Although there is no proven strategy for preventing oral cancer, it is clear that avoiding secondhand smoke as much as possible may be as important as stopping smoking altogether.

RELATED: Why Are ‘Never-Smokers’ Getting Lung Cancer?

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