Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sleeping Cancer Cells

Slept as soundly as a ... cancer cell?
In certain cases, a malignant and cancerous tumor can be surgically removed from a patient, yet the cancer will return after the malignancy has been removed from the body. We might suspect that this new malignancy is a result of incomplete excision, that not all of the original tumor was removed, or maybe that the tumor was able to metastasize and proliferate before the surgery. However, we must appreciate that this is very unusual for cancer cells to remain in the body, not multiplying, for such a prolonged period of time; the disease is characterized by its ability to proliferate quickly and efficiently. Though we might assume that this reoccurred is the result of slow growing tumors, this is not the case; many cases are reported where the original tumor (before excision) grew very rapidly. Scientists realized that cancer cells must have the ability to lie dormant for a period of time, and reactive into fully functioning cancer cells. These secondary tumors are typically drug resistant (because many drug therapies target rapidly dividing cells, and these cells are not yet dividing) and are the result of metastasis. In my opinion, the most interesting part about this idea of "sleeping," or dormant cancer cells, is that they sustain life in various tissues for a sustained period of time, without multiplying, yet they retain the capacity to begin multiplying and behave (once again) like a cancer cell.

An article for you to check out!

I just came across this article, X-Ray Danger, while doing research for another blog I'm writing right now about irradiation and children. If you look at the first couple paragraphs that question the safety of X-ray procedures, you might not be thinking anything more eloquent than, "Duh." Even if we don't know the specific risks ourselves, we remember the first time we got to wear that heavy lead coat during an X-ray and have always been told that a lot of radiation is bad for us. But then look at when the article was printed: Monday, October 1st, 1956. 1956!

Okay, so that wasn't really that long ago at all, but it really puts into perspective the evolution of our cancer  understanding, even within just the last century. We hear about the dawn of our understanding of how cancer arises in class, but it's interesting to actually see older articles written on the topic. For example, here is evidence for how doctors battled the same decision then as we do now when it comes to weighing the benefits of radiation as a cancer therapy. The article's tone is indicative of how little the public actually knew about the risks in general, but also illuminates that their growing concern was in some ways self-initiated in their mounting questioning of the procedure.

(They even mention that radiation can promote mutation in one's genes! Although, they only mention this in the context of passing on possible mutations to children, not as a trigger for cancer formation.)

So, take a quick peek! Be careful how much of the information in it you take for face value because it is quite old; I'm not posting it because it's the most up-to-date information out there. It's just an interesting thing to think about in general. (And what else do you have to do until the royal wedding broadcasts? ...just kidding.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Sniffing" Out Cancer- and Puppies!

Most doctors will tell you that the most important step to beginning cancer treatment is diagnosis- an undiagnosed, malignant cancer will almost certainly lead to death in a patient. Thus, doctors utilize a variety of diagnostic tests, techniques, and technologies to diagnose these growths. This can include, but isn't limited to, blood tests, MRIs, PET and CT scans, as well as physical examinations. While generally accepted as standard, quality techniques, some of these tests can be expensive, inaccessible, or uncomfortable for patients.

That's where recent technological innovation out of Israel comes in. The NA-NOSE (Nanoscale Artificial Nose), developed by the Israel Institute of Technology, has demonstrated the ability to detect the presence of some varieties of cancer, including cancers forming in the head, neck, and lungs. It is capable of distinguishing between specific types of these cancers, including mouth, lip, lung, larynx and salivary gland cancers. All the patient is required to do is breathe onto the microscopic sensors of the device- a completely non-invasive, pain-free, and fast medical test, especially relative to some of the currently used tests.

Melanoma Skin Cancer

As one of the most serious forms of skin cancer, Melanoma usually occurs in the cells that produce Melanin; these cells give color to skin. According to the NCI: “An estimated 53,600 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in the United States in 2002, and an estimated 7,400 people will die of the disease. Melanoma can be cured if detected and treated early.”
Although the exact sources of Melanoma is still not clear, different studies have shown that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, or the UV of tanning lamps and beds increases the risk of developing melanoma. There are other risk factors for Melanoma such as: “having fair skin (less pigments in skin), a history of sunburn, having unusual moles, a family history of Melanoma, weakened immune system, and living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation.” Therefore, risk of Melanoma increases under some specific conditions.

Velscope your way out of Cancer...

Last Tuesday I went to the dentist to get me routine check up and dental cleaning. You might be asking yourself why on earth am I blogging about my dentist visit, but trust me it has to do with cancer! Amazingly, after checking for cavities (which I did not have), the nurse pulled out a laser, she called Velscope. She told me it was a fluorescent light that tells her if there are any abnormal growths or cancer cells in the patients mouth. I was amazed that such technology existed and decided to research more about Velscope and oral Cancer itself.

According to Velscope's website, about 36,540 American's were diagnosed with either oral cavity or pharynx cancers in 2010. About 7,880 Americans died of oral cancers in 2010. Also the survival rate of oral cancer is a lot higher when localized in comparison to when it has regionalized or worse yet localized. The fluorescent blue light that comes out of the Vescope is 100% safe and excites the natural fluorophores. A fluorophore is part of the molecule which absorbs light and causes the cell to fluoresce. The Velscope provides a contrast between normal and abnormal cells by blocking the reflected blue light and allowing the visualization of fluorescent light. The light is shinned on the surface of the epithelial tissues which causes it to fluoresce and change to a darker, more noticeable color. If an abnormal growth is detected, then further studies are made accordingly. If the abnormality was found in its early stages then the chances of survival increase.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cancer Patients Freezing Eggs and Embryos
While at home during the three day weekend, I read an article ( in the local paper about a 31 year old woman, Alice Crisci, who spent $14,000 to freeze her eggs after finding out her breast cancer could affect her fertility. She is now trying to pass a petition that would extend health insurance coverage to all California residents to preserve their fertility prior to undergoing cancer treatment.

As you may or may not know, certain types of cancer treatments can affect fertility such as radiation and chemotherapy. These cancer treatments are developed with the knowledge that effective agents selectively target rapidly dividing cells such as ovarian cells, especially the eggs. For young patients such as Crisci, freezing eggs or embryos (if you have a sperm donor or male companion) is a good option. But this procedure can cost thousands, an amount of money many can’t afford. This is why Crisci hopes to pass this bill which would allow insurance to cover the expensive procedure for cancer patients who want children.

Should People Worry About Cancer In Japan After Disaster?

As most of you well know, very recently there has been a series of natural disasters which has lead to the compromise and ended up with the malfunction of one of Japans nuclear reactors. Fukushima 1 nuclear reactor to be exact found itself in trouble when the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami disabled its cooling system. This eventually lead to the release of radiation. I would like to question if this release of radiation should be a serious source of concern and if the media has just been perpetuating fear in the public to get attention.

First off I will give some background information on the nuclear reactor itself. The boiling water reactor which was built in 1971 and located in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. The Fukushima 1 nuclear reactor is considered on of the 15 largest nuclear stations in the world and outputs a combined power of 4.7 GWe. In the past the power plant has already been a source of concern because it has been cited to be using outdated safety outlines, and had falsified inspection and repair reports. Luckily this pressure lead the company to build an emergency response center in 2010 which was used in the tsunami incident. 

When We Stay Up Past Our Bedtimes...

While browsing through the Health section of ABC News, I came across an interesting article—Odd Work Schedules Pose Risk to Health—which I found not only relevant to our course topic, but also to our daily lives. The article warns against abnormal sleeping habits and sleep-deprivation, both common to jobs that require late-night shifts such as factory work, nursing, firefighting, and air traffic control. Harms are not limited to the inability to concentrate or falling asleep on duty; rather there are effects that are much more grave and detrimental. Abnormal sleeping habits and sleep-deprivation "muck up [our] biological rhythms;" they influence hormone production and physiological functions; and, they are probably carcinogenic, likely to cause cancer [1].

Could this really be true? Is there actually a correlation between sleep and cancer? It almost seems as if society attributes everything to cancer, and we have heard so many claims, whether true or not— that hair-dye, teeth-whitening, diet soda, cell phones, plastic water bottles, and even burnt toast cause cancer. I thought it would be best to refer to scientific literature and to verify the statement made in the news article, before jumping onto the ‘cancer scare’ bandwagon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Treatment for breast cancer AND heart disease?

Hormone therapy is a treatment option for women at risk of breast cancer, but is dealt with caution as symptoms are severe and may possibly induce other forms of cancer. Doctors usually prescribe combination hormone therapy (estrogen and progestin) to relieve symptoms of menopause among menopausal women.
Though combination therapy is an issue, the article that brought this to my attention raised another issue: prescription of estrogen to prevent heart disease and breast cancer. A trial was conducted by the Women’s Health Initiative on 10,739 postmenopausal women with prior hysterectomies.
The trial sought to evaluate the effect equine estrogen had on chronic diseases such as heart failure and cancer. Women involved in the trial were excluded if they had any prior incidence of cancer and if they did not have a hysterectomy. Women were randomly assigned to an estrogen only group and a placebo group. Presence of invasive cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and death were observed for 7 years to measure rate cancer and heart failure.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Debate: Pancreatic Cancer Screening

Doctors have been debating about the benefits of screening for pancreatic cancer. Doctors hope that screening may be a way to catch this typically fatal disease early on, as symptoms for this disease do not appear until the cancer has sufficiently spread. Dr. Emmy Ludwig offered pancreatic screenings to 309 individuals who had immediate family members who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 109 accepted this offer, and abnormalities were found in 9 of these individuals. All of these individuals were over the age of 65. These patients underwent endoscopic ultrasounds, where a probe is entered into the mouth of that patient and lowered to the area of the pancreas. Six of these patients then underwent preventative surgery, while the other patients declined surgical intervention, yet planned to continue screenings.
Because abnormal test results were found in patients over 65, Dr. Ludwig believes that screening may be particularly beneficial for senior citizens in high risk families.
A similar study was conducted in Germany; however, out of 76 patients (who had immediate relatives diagnosed with pancreatic cancer), only 1 patient was reported with having abnormal test results.
Dr. Ludwig, as well as many other doctors, affirm that there is still much uncertainty surrounding the benefits of screening for pancreatic cancer, and if it actually yields informative results. Though there are positive indications for screening senior citizens, doctors are still unsure of what immediate family members would benefit most from this screening, and at what age screening can begin. In addition, needless screening can have adverse effects, such as "false-positives," which can cause patient anxiety and worry. Furthermore, most insurance companies do not cover the costly price of pancreatic screening. At present, the consensus seems to be that more tests must take place in order for the medical world to determine the benefits of screening for pancreatic cancer.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Leukemia and Metastasis

My Partner and I will be focusing our studies/project on Leukemia. More specifically why this type of Cancer does not metastasize and form secondary tumors in other parts of the body. Leukemia is a hematopoietic tumor which can be either myeloid (of bone marrow or spinal cord origin) or lymphocytic (of white blood cell origin) and chronic or acute depending on the severity.

more to come...

Check out our wiki at @ Leukemia and Metastasis

Pizza Pizza!

In the April 2011 edition of Runner’s World Magazine, there is a fun mini article on “The Runner’s Pie” suggesting a creative, and healthy version of pizza for runners and athletes alike to enjoy and benefit from. In the description for the sauce, they suggest readers to use Marinara sauce which is rich in lycopene, which they state, is a cancer fighting antioxidant. Curious to learn more, I decided to do some research on this antioxidant and was very pleased with what I found.

Lycopene, a bright red carotenoid pigment, is found naturally in numerous fruits such as tomatoes and watermelon giving them their lush red color. This specific carotenoid is the most common carotenoid found within in the human body. Other forms of carotenoids are responsible for the yellow and orange colors in other fruits. When I read that lycopene was a carotenoid I immediately thought of the Evolutionary Biology class which I took last year in which we learned how carotenoids assisted male birds in attracting mates. Birds such as blacks birds and zebra finches have orange beaks which brightness and vibrancy is determined by the amount of carrots (which contains an orange version of carotenoids) which they consume. The bright colors allow the females to determine how well the males are at obtaining food as well as the health of their immune system, thus making the brighter beaked males an ideal choice for mating. But how could this carotenoid assist humans with there health?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Does Sunscreen Help to Prevent Skin Cancer?

The prevention of Melanoma skin cancer is a major goal because it is the most lethal skin cancer among all other major types of skin cancers. Unfortunately, it has not yet been proven that the use of Sunscreen reduces the risk of developing Melanoma. Since UVA is the main cause of Melanoma, the protection against UVA is important, and Sunscreens should contain ingredients to protect against UVA. However, no Sunscreen can fully protect against the full spectrum of UVA & UVB, but it has been shown that there is a relationship between the UV ray absorption and the SPF values of Sunscreen. Different studies and their resulted data reflect the chronological progress of the relation of the concentration of UVB & UVA filters in Sunscreen the influence of additional chemical component, antioxidants, and cell-protecting agents on the efficiency of the product. Also, there are some concerns about some of the major chemical components used in Sunscreens and Sunblocks, such as Benzophenone, Avobenzone, Titanium Dioxide, and Zinc Oxide. These are potentially dangerous toxic chemical substances. Therefore, in this cancer project we try to compare some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Sunscreens, as one adjunct to skin cancer prevention with emphasizing on the fact that there is not enough support to prove the truth that Sunscreen use alone is adequate protection against UV radiation.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gardasil, the HPV vaccine and Cervical Cancer

We have a pretty broad idea right now about what we want to do. We are focusing on the recently released HPV vaccine, Gardasil which claims to help prevent the incidence of cervical cancer in women. This vaccine was approved in 2006 and was largely commercialized and pushed onto many patients. However, long term effects of the vaccine are not yet known. We want to explore both how the vaccine works on a molecular level and discover what the long term effects of the vaccine are. We are hoping to look into FDA and pharmaceutical documents preceding the approval of this drug to find what, if any adverse effects, the vaccine may have long-term. Clinical trials will also be used to examine the safety of the vaccine. Also, we are planning to explain how the vaccine should be used and its effectiveness in preventing HPV infection and resulting prevention of cervical cancer.

Here we are, staking our claim on...


Well, that’s not very specific, is it? Problem is, there is a lot that can go wrong when you are a child with a brain tumor, but there is also a lot that can continue to go wrong as an adult from that same tumor. Considering that the brain is the most common place for solid tumors in children, the later effects of these tumors should be of concern to more than just parents with young children.

According to the Brain Tumor section of the Children’s Hospital Boston website (which, nationally ranked #3 in Top Ranked Pediatric Hospitals for Cancer by U.S. News for 2010-11, should know what it’s talking about), there are many types of brain tumors. They list:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BRCA1 and BRCA2 and Breast Cancer
Our proposed topic is on the tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. It is well known that once these genes become mutated, it causes breast cancer, and there are genetic tests that determine whether these genes are mutated. We will be focusing on the tests and results. Once a patient takes this test and it comes back positive, what should that person do? How should their lifestyle change? Answering these questions will be our emphasis.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Specific Genetic Mutations in Retinoblastoma, Osteosarcoma, and Lung Cancer

Initial research revealed that there is a genetic link between hereditary retinoblastoma and osteosarcoma--that individuals who inherit retinoblastoma are predisposed to osteosarcoma (1); the gene responsible is Rb1 (2). My partner and I were very excited about this information; however, we soon discorved that mutations in Rb1 also cause other cancers, and that Rb1 was not specific to retinoblastoma and osteosarcoma only.

We continued to develop our topic, and as of now, we have decided to look at several genes and how their mutations could suggest correlations to certain cancers. The genes we will study in detail are Rb1, TP53, KIT, and GNAQ; we will look at how specific mutations in these genes lead to retinoblastoma, osteosarcoma, and lung cancer. By the end of our project, we hope to be able to make some conclusions as to whether or not certain cancers are genetically related according to similar genetic mutations.

Our major source will be the Catologue of Somatic Mutations in Cancer; this website includes a large database of all types of tumors that have been genetically sampled and studied. Here's a sample of the Rb1 gene that has been mapped by COSMIC for its mutations.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

UVA and UVB Protection from Sunscreen and Prevention of Skin Cancer

With summer just around the corner, young adults are working to " get their tan on". On the nice warm days you see dozens of students relaxing out on the grass, exposing themselves to the strong rays of the sun. From my own personal experience, the use of sunblock is unnecessary despite the many warnings I have heard from my parents and on sunblock advertisements. I know, I can get skin cancer if I do not wear sunscreen.

A clear link between UV exposure and skin cancer has been found, particularly with non-melanoma skin cancers. However, smearing sunscreen, potentially also full of chemicals, may not be any better for skin cells. The free radicals can potentially cause more damage than UV exposure (depending on level of exposure).

What ingredients are found in sunscreen products and how do they prevent against UV damage, the leading cause of skin cancer?

Tamoxifen and Breast Cancer Prevention

My partner and I have begun to think about our cancer project and our initial research has raised more questions, rather than narrowing down our search.

Tamoxifen is a selective estrogen receptor modulator that is currently being used to prevent a recurrence of estrogen receptor positive and progesterone receptor positive breast cancers.


To do this, tamoxifen mimics the structure of estrogen and binds to the estrogen receptor, preventing the estrogen dependent pathway that induced the cancer to begin with. There are many adverse side effects to this drug such as an increased risk of blood clots and an increased risk of uterine cancer.

This raises into question, how effective is tamoxifen at preventing breast cancer recurrence (and in some women preventing breast cancer in and of itself)? Do the risks, such as uterine cancer, outweigh the benefits?

Should tamoxifen be used to prevent progesterone receptor positive breast cancers? Tamoxifen is specific to estrogen receptor positive breast cancers. Although progesterone is similar in structure to estrogen, it is likely that the binding site of the progesterone receptor is different from the binding site of the estrogen receptor. Is tamoxifen, then, even effective for prevention of progesterone receptor positive breast cancer?

To explore this, an interesting study looks at tamoxifen in the prevention of estrogen receptor negative and progesterone receptor positive breast cancer. Most of these cases are premenopausal with little option for prevention besides tamoxifen. According to the study, tamoxifen may be less effective in this type of breast cancer. Why, then, is tamoxifen being used for prevention in all hormone receptor breast cancers if the benefit is much less for progesterone receptor positive breast cancers (especially given the risks of taking tamoxifen)?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Laron Syndrome: Growth Hormone Receptor Deficiency, Diabetes and Cancer

One of the best aspects of researching a topic is serendipitously stumbling on news stories that would otherwise escape my attention. So imagine my pleasure when I happened across this short piece in the February 18 issue of Science Magazine. It describes Laron Syndrome, a disease that results in dwarfism, obesity and an increased risk of convulsive disorders, but also results in a dramatically reduced risk for diabetes and cancer. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre at the Institute of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Reproduction in Quito, Ecuador has been studying a cohort of patients in remote Ecuadoran villages for over 20 years (see below). Among the 152 living and dead Laron patients he has studied, not a single one had diabetes, despite having nearly twice the level of obesity as compared to their non-Laron relatives (5% of these people had diabetes). Even more startling, only one patient had a non-lethal case of cancer: an ovarian cancer treated with chemotherapy and in full remission at the time of death, compared to nearly 20% of the control (non-Laron relatives) cohort dying from cancer. Even more interesting, Guevara-Aguirre and his colleagues have an extraordinary molecular link bewteen this disease and cancer. [More after the break]
Guevara-Aguirre with several of his Laron syndrome subjects in 1988 (top) and in 2009 (bottom). CREDITS: JAIME GUEVARA-AGUIRRE ET AL., SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE3, 70 (16 FEBRUARY 2011)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Patient cured of Leukemia and HIV!

Over winter break, my father told me a very interesting story he had heard on the radio concerning an individual in Germany who was "cured" of HIV and Leukemia. I was a little skeptical at first, but still very interested, so I went home and researched more about this person. His name is Timothy Ray Brown. A 48 year old American who underwent a type of stem cell transplant, more specifically bone marrow transplant in 2007 in Berlin. Mr. Brown was about to undergo a form of stem cell therapy, but his doctors decided to go with a transplant in order to try get rid of the HIV. A Stem cell transplant is a last ditch effort to cure cancer's such as leukemia due to the fact that they are very dangerous. The donor and patient need to have very...
similar blood and immune systems in order for the transplant to work or else the patient will die. In other words the chances for success are very, very rare. Luckily for Mr. Brown, the donor had a mutation on CCR5 , a receptor gene, in white blood cells, that prevent the AIDS virus from entering and infecting the human cell. The transplant was successful and Mr. Brown has seen no trace of either the HIV virus or the leukemia since he underwent surgery four years ago. Doctors claim that, "Brown's cell counts remain in the range of people without HIV," (

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Proposed Project

My partner and I will be doing our cancer project on Pancreatic Cancer. More specifically, we will be researching and discussing the environmental risk factors that may increase one's chance of getting this cancer. If the available research and statistics for the environmental factors are too limited, we will expand our topic of study to include genetic risk factors.

Pancreatic cancer particularly interests me personally because of its unusually poor prognosis. Fewer than 5% of patients survive five years past the time of diagnosis, and complete remission is very rare. Clearly, there is still much work to be done in the field, which makes it even more interesting to me.

Primera entrada del blog

Un comienzo nuevo a un sitio de cancer en Espanol

Quick New Post

This blog superseded the one on