Recent Cancer News: Pancreatic Cancer, Colon Cancer, Breast Cancer

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 weekly roundup of some of the most significant cancer news. Here’s what was new the week of July 14.

Increase in Colorectal Cancer in Those Under 55 Is Not Due to Increased Screening

What's new The increase in the prevalence of colorectal cancer in people younger than 55 is not solely due to improved colorectal cancer screening and detection, according to a study published July 11 in the Journal of Medical Screening.

The study, by the American Cancer Society, looked at colonoscopy screening among more than 5,000 people ages 40 to 54 in the National Health Interview Survey. The researchers also calculated colorectal cancer incidence rates during the years 2000 to 2015. They found colonoscopy rates (exams conducted in the past year) remained mostly the same among people ages 40–44 (remaining under 3 percent) while colorectal cancer incidence rates increased by 28 percent. Among people 45–49, colonoscopy rates doubled from 2.5 percent in 2000 to 5.2 percent in 2015, while colorectal cancer incidence rates increased by 15 percent. Among those ages 50–54, colonoscopy rates increased by about 2.5 times (from 5 percent to 14.1 percent) while incidence rates rose 17 percent.

Why it matters The rise in colorectal cancer in people younger than 55 has alarmed health officials. Experts have debated whether the increase is due to more screening and detection or reflects an actual increase in the disease incidence. The study shows colonoscopy rates don’t align with the increase in incidence rates. The paper clarifies the need for additional research to explore the reasons behind rising colorectal cancer rates in younger people.

Lab Test May Identify Dangerous Pancreatic Cysts

What's new A new laboratory test using artificial intelligence tools can help identify which people with pancreatic cysts will go on to develop pancreatic cancer, according to a study published July 17 in Science Translational Medicine.

The test, dubbed CompCyst, was developed by an international team of researchers led by Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists. They studied more than 800 patients with pancreatic cysts, analyzing fluid from the cysts. The CompCyst test was better than standard methods at identifying which patients’ cysts looked more suspicious and would benefit from surgery to remove them and which could be monitored.

Why it matters A better way to assess pancreatic cysts is needed to steer patients toward the right treatment or monitoring, the authors said. About 4 percent of people in their sixties and 8 percent over age 70 develop pancreatic cysts. But only a small fraction of cysts become cancerous. “Our study demonstrates the potential role of CompCyst as a complement to existing clinical and imaging criteria when evaluating pancreatic cysts,” says Anne Marie Lennon, PhD, a professor of medicine and the director of the Johns Hopkins multidisciplinary pancreatic cyst clinic in Baltimore. “It could provide a greater degree of confidence for physicians when they advise patients that they do not require follow-up and can be discharged from surveillance.” The test still has to be validated, and a validation study is planned for later this year.

Thyroid Cancer May Be Overtreated

What's new Almost one-quarter of all low-risk thyroid cancer patients receive more treatment than necessary, according to a study published in June 2019 in the journal Surgical Oncology.

The researchers, at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, looked at more than 32,000 thyroid cancer cases in a National Cancer Institute database and found that more than half of patients had thyroid cancer that was considered low-risk. About 25 percent of the low-risk patients received radioactive iodine ablation treatment. Patients younger than 65 years old were most at risk of overtreatment, as were men and Hispanic and Asian patients.

Why it matters About 50,000 Americans a year are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the disease is highly curable. Many patients with low-risk cancer, such as those with small, localized tumors, can be treated with surgery to remove the gland. Additional treatment with radioactive iodine ablation carries the risk of long-term side effects, such as impaired taste perception. It can also raise the risk of leukemia. In 2015, the American Thyroid Association released guidelines clarifying that radioactive iodine ablation may be unnecessary for patients with low-risk thyroid cancer.

RELATED: Cancer Risk Genes: Everything You Need to Know About PTEN

Maternal Obesity Raises Cancer Risk in Children

What's new Children born to obese mothers were more likely to develop cancer in early childhood, regardless of other cancer risk factors, according to research published July 10 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center examined 2 million birth records and 3,000 records from a cancer registry in Pennsylvania between 2003 and 2016. They found children born to severely obese mothers, who had a body mass index (BMI) of above 40, had a 57 percent higher risk of developing leukemia before age 5. The association was found regardless of maternal age and birth weight.

Why it matters The researchers suggest that the increased cancer risk may have something to do with increased insulin levels in the mother during pregnancy or changes in DNA expression that are inherited by the child. “We are dealing with an obesity epidemic in this country,” says the senior author, Jian-Min Yuan, MD, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health and a co-leader of the cancer epidemiology and prevention program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “From a prevention point of view, maintaining a healthy weight is not only good for the mother, but also for the children, too.”

RELATED: Where Men Spend Their Childhood Determines Testosterone Level, Study Says

Sugary Drinks Linked to Elevated Cancer Risk

What’s new Adding even 3.5 ounces of sugary drinks to one’s diet daily is linked to an 18 percent boost in the risk of developing cancer and a 22 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer, according to an observational study published July 10 in the BMJ.

French researchers looked at the diets of more than 101,000 adults ages 42 and older. They examined the food diaries of participants that recorded more than 3,000 types of food, including sugary drinks such as soda, syrups, 100 percent fruit drinks, and sports beverages. The participants were followed for an average of nine years and cancer rates were recorded. The study showed a link between overall cancer risk and higher consumption of sugary drinks, even when controlling for other risk factors for cancer such as genetic risk and lifestyle factors. When looking at 100 percent fruit juices separately, the study showed an elevated risk of overall cancer and breast cancer but no link to an increased risk of colorectal cancer or prostate cancer.

Why it matters The study is significant because of its size, but the results may not be generalizable to other populations, the authors said. Sugary drinks may contribute to cancer risk because sugar affects visceral fat, blood sugar, and inflammation. "These data support the relevance of existing nutritional recommendations to limit sugary drink consumption, including 100 percent fruit juice, as well as policy actions, such as taxation and marketing restrictions targeting sugary drinks, which might potentially contribute to the reduction of cancer incidence,” the authors said.

Modest Weight Gain Often Occurs During Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

What’s new Modest changes in body weight and body composition occur during and after chemotherapy among women with early-stage breast cancer, according to a study published online July 9 in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer.

Researchers in the Netherlands analyzed data from 181 patients with early-stage breast cancer and 180 women without cancer. The patients’ body compositions were assessed using a dual-energy X-ray scan before the start of chemotherapy, shortly after chemotherapy, and six months after chemotherapy. The study found that 15 percent of patients and 8 percent of the comparison group gained at least 5 percent in body weight between the start of chemotherapy and six months after chemotherapy. Overall, the cancer patients had an increase of about 2.5 pounds during the period of chemotherapy. There were no differential changes in fat mass over time between patients and the comparison group. Lean mass did not change significantly.

Why it matters Women may become concerned about temporary fluctuations in body composition during chemotherapy for breast cancer. But the study shows most women return to their pre-chemotherapy body composition by six months following therapy. The study results refute older studies that suggest a more significant weight gain is typically linked to chemotherapy for breast cancer.

RELATED: How to Eat Well During Breast Cancer Treatment

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