The hormone oestrogen fuels the growth of many different types of breast cancer. And to reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease, a drug called anastrozole is often used to block oestrogen production in post-menopausal ladies. But now new research has revealed that anastrozole actually continues to work long after a woman has stopped taking it. According to the research by a team at the Queen Mary University of London, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, anastrozole continues to reduce a woman’s cancer risk by 49% even seven years after they stop taking it. This is in addition to it halving a woman’s risk during the five years they take the drug. In other words, the benefits of taking anastrozole continue after treatment has stopped. Trials are now focussing on whether anastrozole can be used to prevent the onslaught of breast cancer and not just used once a woman has developed the disease. Speaking about the findings of the research, Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: “Up until now we only knew that tamoxifen has long-lasting benefits, so it's reassuring that this study looking specifically at anastrozole, which has fewer long-term side-effects, gives better protection to women years after they stopped taking the drug.” Anastrozole is currently available on the NHS in England, but only about 10% of women who should be taking the drug actually are.
A new tumour-agnostic drug has been approved for use in Europe. The revolutionary drug, experts say, has the potential to cure more cancer patients and reduce side-effects. Called larotrectinib, the new drug does not care where the cancer is growing in the body and instead looks for a specific genetic abnormality, which means it can be used to treat a wide range of tumours. Doctors in the UK have said the new drug is “a really exciting thing” and marks a move away from having ‘drugs that treat breast cancer’, ‘drugs that treat bowel cancer’ and ‘drugs that treat lung cancer’, to having drugs that target the genetic make-up of each patient’s tumour. However, the decision by European regulators does not mean that any cancer patient can take advantage of larotrectinib right away. Its approval for use right now only applies to patients with solid tumours that have been caused by a genetic abnormality known as an NTRK gene fusion. This rare abnormality happens when part of an individual’s DNA accidentally merges with another, leading to an alteration in the body’s blueprint that allows cancer to grow. Speaking about the drug development, Dr Julia Chisholm, a children's cancer consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: “It is a really exciting thing, as is it works across a range of cancers. It's not confined to one.”
We recently wrote about how an exotic fish could help heal human hearts. Now, new research suggests that a rainforest vine compound is highly effective at killing treatment-resistant pancreatic cancer cells. Known for their ability to survive even the most inhospitable conditions, pancreatic cancer cells are notoriously difficult to kill. It’s one of the reasons why pancreatic cancer is so hard to treat and why the condition usually has a poor outlook. Indeed, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says the 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients is just 12-24 percent. However, researchers from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg in Germany and the Institute of Natural Medicine at the University of Toyama in Japan have discovered that a compound found in a Congolese rainforest plant can make pancreatic cancer cells susceptible to nutrient starvation. The compound, ancistrolikokine E3, has anti-austerity properties and inhibits the Akt/mTOR pathway of pancreatic cancer cells. It’s this pathway that enables these cancer cells to thrive even under conditions of low nutrients and oxygen – an ability in the cancer field known as ‘austerity.’ While more research is needed, the compound is seen as promising for the development of future anticancer drugs.
The European Cancer Congress has heard that an immunotherapy drug is a potential "game-changer" for cancer patients; especially those suffering with head and neck cancer. In one study of head and neck cancer, more patients taking immunotherapy drug nivolumab survived for longer compared with counterparts who were treated with chemotherapy. Another study found that when combined with another drug, nivolumab reduced the size of tumours in advanced kidney cancer patients. The findings of the studies are welcome news in the battle against head and neck cancer, which historically has a very poor survival rate. In a trial of more than 350 patients, the results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 36% of patients treated with nivolumab were still alive after one year, compared to 17% of chemotherapy patients. The immunotherapy patients also experienced far fewer side effects. However, the benefits of nivolumab were even more pronounced for patients whose tumours had tested positive for HPV (human papillomavirus). These individuals survived for 9.1 months on average, compared to 4.4 months for patients treated with chemotherapy. Professor Kevin Harrington of the Institute of Cancer Research and consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, who led the head and neck cancer trial, said immunotherapy drug nivolumab could be a real "game changer" for patients with advanced head and neck cancer. "This trial found that it can greatly extend life among a group of patients who have no existing treatment options, without worsening quality of life," he said.
Every year, tens of thousands of breast cancer cases diagnosed in the US and Europe are linked to alcohol consumption. Moreover, alcohol has also frequently been linked to an increased risk of cancer recurrence in women with early-stage breast cancer. But now a new study has found that a direct link exists between alcohol, estrogen and a cancer-causing gene. Researchers from the University of Houston in Texas, led by cancer biologist Chin-Yo Lin, say that despite breast cancer being one of the most common causes of cancer deaths for women and alcohol consumption already identified as a modifiable risk factor, 50% of women with the disease still drink some alcoholic beverages. Lin's team discovered that alcohol promotes the expression of a cancer-causing gene called BRAF. Furthermore, it mimic and enhances the effects of estrogen, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer. Finally, the team also found that alcohol weakened the ability of cancer drug tamoxifen to suppress cancer cell growth. "Alcohol consumption is prevalent among women in the US and is a risk factor for breast cancer. Our research shows alcohol enhances the actions of estrogen in driving the growth of breast cancer cells and diminishes the effects of the cancer drug tamoxifen on blocking estrogen by increasing the levels of a cancer-causing gene called BRAF," said Lin. The team's findings were published in the journal PLOS One.
Scientists have developed a way of flushing HIV out of its hiding places in the body using a cancer drug, combating its survival mechanism and killing it in the bloodstream. Dormant HIV reservoirs are targeted by the “highly potent” cancer drug and while more testing is needed, experts have described the treatment as “interesting”. Researchers at the UC Davis School of Medicine in California believe that a skin cancer drug known as PEP005 may be able to “kick and kill” these hidden HIV reservoirs. At present, anti-retroviral therapy – the “cornerstone” of cancer treatment – kills HIV in the bloodstream, but leaves its reservoirs untouched. According to their report, "PEP005 is highly potent in reactivating latent HIV". It’s one of a number of "lead compounds for combating HIV". It’s the “kick and kill” strategy that interests scientists the most. The kick effectively wakes up the dormant virus allowing the drugs to kill it. Dr Satya Dandekar, who led the research study, said: "We are excited to have identified an outstanding candidate for HIV reactivation and eradication that is already approved and is being used in patients. "This molecule has great potential to advance into translational and clinical studies." The down side is that the drug has still not yet been tested in people who are HIV-positive. So while the research carries immense amounts of potential, a significant amount of testing and further investigation is needed.
For prostate cancer sufferers, docetaxel is usually only given after hormone treatment has failed. But now a major study has revealed that earlier treatment with the drug can extend life expectancy anywhere from 43 to 65 months. The results, which will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, are being labelled as “potentially game-changing”. In the UK alone, 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 11,000 die from the disease every year. The trial was conducted across Britain and Switzerland and involved 2,962 men. At the start of their treatment, some of the men were given six doses of docetaxel and subsequently lived 10 months longer than those that weren’t. However, patients who had already seen their cancer spread past their pelvis saw their life expectancies increase by 22 months. One of the researchers at Warwick University, Prof Nicholas James, who was involved in the study said he was very pleased with the results and emphasised that the NHS needed to act upon them quickly: "To see a 22-month survival advantage off six lots of treatment given several years earlier is a very big benefit.” Furthermore, the fact that docetaxel is out of patent means that it represents a potentially cost-effective method of treatment. Commenting on the study’s findings, Cancer Research UK said the results were “important” and "show that it should be given earlier in a man's treatment". Photo credit: NHS