August 07, 2013
By Mia M. Gaudet, PhD
Scientists have long cautioned that a family history of cancer increases your personal risk of cancer. Some genetic changes (mutations) that are found in only a few families but tremendously increase risk of cancer (e.g., BRCA1/2) have been known since the 1990s. These mutations are already used by doctors to identify high risk men and women. However, there is still much of the genetic component of cancer that is unknown. Advances in genetics and technology now allow scientists to look at common changes in the genetic code to see if these changes are related to risk of cancer.
Researchers are trying to answer these questions. Recently, an international group of cancer investigators linked 74 genetic regions to cancer. These newly identified genetic regions contain common changes in their code (called polymorphisms) that have only small effects on the risk of cancer. But when you combine many polymorphisms, that risk increases.
These new polymorphisms were found by studying the genetic make-up of more than 200,000 people. Women with and without breast cancer, women who had mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2, women with and without ovarian cancer, and men with and without prostate cancer participated in the studies. More...
January 23, 2013
By Charles (Karl) Saxe, PhD
Something patients do not want to hear and physicians do not want to say is "your cancer has metastasized."
Metastasis is the process whereby cancer cells spread from the site of the original tumor to one or more other places in the body. And with upwards of 90% of all cancer suffering and death associated with metastasis, it is the single most significant challenge to management of the disease.
It's no wonder, then, that a major goal of cancer research is to understand what causes metastasis and how it happens. More...
November 06, 2012
By William C. Phelps, PhD
Back in May something amazing happened. A 15-year-old high school freshman from Crownsville, MD, Jack Andraka, won the National Intel Science Fair for creating a more sensitive and much less expensive device to detect pancreatic cancer. This is a remarkable achievement for a high school freshman and could be a game-changing discovery for a deadly cancer if it proves successful in future clinical testing, expected to be a number of years away. Only a few months before that, 17-year-old Angela Zhang from Cupertino, CA, won the Siemens Prize for creating laser-activated nanoparticles which kill cancer cells. Clearly, a bright light of innovation is growing in our next generation of young scientists.
Among the hundreds of different cancers that affect people today, perhaps none is more dreadful than pancreatic cancer. Doctors cannot easily detect it, nor are there effective treatments available for the majority of patients. We don't fully understand what causes pancreatic cancer and we know very little about how it can be prevented. The disease is frighteningly aggressive in its growth, with patients often living less than a year after they're diagnosed. Why has progress been so frustratingly slow for pancreatic cancer when compared with other forms of cancer? In general, cancer is considered a very complex collection of diseases, and among cancers, pancreatic cancer is one of the more complicated. It has been an unusually slow process to unravel the biological picture of pancreatic cancer. More...
August 13, 2012
By William C. Phelps, PhD
During 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 30 completely new therapies (new molecular entities, as opposed to the modification of an old drug), 7 of which were for treatment of different types of cancer. One of them, the lung cancer drug crizotinib, was decades in the making. For a new drug, that isn't necessarily a lot of time.
Why does it take so long to get cancer treatments to the patients who need them? The answer lies both in the complexity of cancer and the complexity of the drug development and testing process. More...
June 26, 2012
By William H. Chambers, PhD
Vaccines are not new. In fact, there is evidence that the ancient Egyptians and Chinese used them many centuries ago. Vaccines work by preparing your own immune system to attack invading pathogens, thus preventing disease. Vaccines have helped us make great inroads against many deadly diseases over the past 60 years, when they became used more widely.
Using vaccines against cancer is relatively new, though. Cancer researchers have been trying to make vaccines for tumors, just like others have made vaccines for measles, mumps, and tetanus. More...
May 15, 2012
By Alpa Patel, PhD
How often do you see someone battling cancer and wish there was something tangible you could do to make a difference?
During the past 50 years, more than 2 million volunteer participants have joined the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Studies and have been making a difference simply by giving a little time to fill out surveys and share information about their behaviors, lifestyle, family and personal medical history, and other information. In 1959 and 1982, adult men and women voluntarily joined the Cancer Prevention Studies I, and II, respectively. Their simple actions as study participants have helped us understand much of what we know about how cancer develops in the population.
Today, a new generation can do the same, by joining the Cancer Prevention Study-3 (CPS-3), the Society's newest Cancer Prevention Study. More...
March 04, 2012
By William C. Phelps, PhD
How did you feel the last time someone sneezed in the elevator? Whether it is the common cold or the seasonal flu, we know some illnesses are caused by infections with viruses or bacteria. But what if cancer could be caused by an infection?
Some cancers caused by viruses and bacteria
Although it is not widely realized, 15%-20% of cancers around the world are caused by infectious agents - viruses or bacteria. Fortunately for all of us, the infectious agents linked to cancer are not easily spread from person to person like the common cold virus. It turns out, even when many of these viruses and bacteria infect people, only a small subset will go on to develop cancer. In most cases, we still do not understand why certain people develop cancer and others do not - even though they were also infected. More...
December 14, 2011
By William C. Phelps, PhD
The 1960s seems like yesterday to me. The music, the cultural passion, and a Presidential assassination helped to sear time and place in my now gray-headed memory. During this time, two young scientists in Philadelphia, Dr. Peter Nowell from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. David Hungerford from Fox Chase Cancer Center, spent their days peering through microscopes at white blood cells. They noticed that when they stained cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (or chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML), they would very often see an odd, minute chromosome in addition to the normal set.
We know today in looking back that this was a landmark observation. Dr. Nowell and Dr. Hungerford named their discovery the "Philadelphia Chromosome" in keeping with the tradition of the day, and it soon became an important way to diagnose CML.
In the 1970s as we suffered through the disco era, Dr. Janet Rowley at the University of Chicago used newly developed techniques that highlighted different regions of chromosomes to look more carefully at the Philadelphia Chromosome. She determined that they looked odd because two large pieces of two different chromosomes had changed places. But the significance of that wasn't immediately apparent. More...
October 14, 2011
By William Chambers, PhD
Earlier this month, 3 immunologists were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Two of the 3, Bruce Beutler and Ralph Steinman, are former research grantees of the American Cancer Society, bringing the total of Nobel Prize winners who are former grantees to 46. Drs. Beutler and Jules Hoffman, the third awardee, were singled out for their work on non-adaptive immunity, and Dr. Steinman was recognized for his discovery of dendritic cells, which are singularly important in adaptive immunity. So why is their work important, and what does it have to do with the fight against cancer? More...
August 09, 2011
By Otis W. Brawley, MD, FACP
From time to time, I encounter advocates for research in certain diseases. These are people who want better answers for a specific cancer. Oftentimes these folks or a relative has had that particular cancer. They often ask, why is so little money spent on pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or even lung cancer? Why can't we spend more? These are reasonable questions, and I want to try to address them in this piece.
First I caution against what I call "disease Olympics." This is when advocates for one disease try to increase funding for their disease by decreasing funding for another disease. I have often seen this in my 25 years as an oncologist, researcher, and scientific administrator. I would point out that 90% of the grants that are submitted and judged worthy of funding to the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, and other research-funding organizations are not funded due only to a lack of money. I believe the wise advocate tries to get more money for all cancer research and does not try to undermine another disease in favor of the disease that he or she is interested in. More...