Tag Archives: cancer

Pontine Glioma

Childhood cancer is ordinarily treatable. Although it can be scary when one’s child develops cancer, children’s resilience means cancers in children respond very well to treatment. The only exception is brain tumors, which, because it requires such precision to treat anything in the brain, are the riskiest for children. That includes a cancer of the brainstem called a pontine glioma, one of the most dangerous tumors to treat.

The brainstem is the part of the brain that controls essential function. It’s difficult to label any part of the brain the most important—the entire thing is important—but it is the brainstem in which dysfunction has the most inevitably noticeable and broadest, and widest ranging effects. The pons, where pontine glioma develops, is responsible for breathing.

Children who develop pontine glioma will have trouble walking, standing, and speaking, because the tumor affects parts of the brain that communicate with the arms and legs, as well as the speech areas. It also affects the facial muscles, making eye movement and swallowing difficult and causing one side of the face to droop. Children with this type of tumor may also have trouble closing their eyes all the way, and may have double vision. Pontine gliomas often grow rapidly, causing damage as they do.

It is not known what causes these tumors to develop. There is a type of fungal infection of the scalp that is ordinarily treated with radiation, and children who have had this radiation treatment are more prone to developing glioma of the brainstem, but not all cases can be traced to that source. In a recent study, researchers found that the genetic code of the tumor contains gene mutations that had not previously been linked to any form of cancer, and they say this may prove to be a useful diagnostic tool in the future.

Sadly, children diagnosed with pontine glioma are not expected to survive more than nine months. Fortunately, however, new treatments are being developed that could well save lives. Now that mutations linked with pontine glioma have been discovered, scientists are tracing the effects of those mutations, determining how they relate to tumor development, and finding ways to prevent tumors from developing and destroy them when they do.

Cervical Cancer And HPV

Nearly every person who develops cervical cancer did so as a result of contracting one of around 15 types of human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. There are actually more than 150 types of HPV, though most of them are not associated with cancer; a substantial portion of sexually active people have one form or another of the infection, but because most strains cause no symptoms, the exact percentage is hard to determine.

Both HPV and cervical cancer in its early stages are generally asymptomatic—the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are different from those that cause cancer. That is why it is important to be screened for HPV for someone who is sexually active regularly. A test called a Pap smear, after a shortening of the name of the doctor who developed it, Georgios Papanikolaou, is used to look for signs of cancer in the cervical canal, the exit and entrance of the uterus.

Cervical cancer strikes more than 10,000 women each year. It is very rare for someone to get it except as a result of HPV infection. While a high partner count makes transmission of the virus more likely, anyone who is sexually active can acquire HPV. Not every HPV infection, even with the high-risk strains, leads to cancer. Things like smoking and smoking, stress, poor overall health, and other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia can make it more likely that cancer will develop.

Nonetheless, HPV prevention, quixotic a task as that is, can help reduce the incidence of cervical cancer. Many of the risk factors for HPV appear to be behaviors that are related to having more than one sexual partner—either resulting from decision, facilitating it, or simply the behaviors of someone likely to make it—and it is more likely that their contribution of these factors to getting HPV is mediated by that. Regardless, condom use provides a degree of protection, but it is imperfect because the virus can be transmitted by contact between areas of skin not covered.

The HPV vaccine is becoming more popular. It is available for children and teenagers—since HPV can be transmitted during a person’s first sexual encounter, it is recommended that people be vaccinated before they become sexually active, but the vaccine is effective through age 26 in women and 21 in men. The vaccine provides protection against the three HPV strains that cause more than three quarters of all cervical cancers, and experts say vaccination programs could cut cervical cancer deaths by as much as two-thirds.

Pancreatic Cancer Spreads

Pancreatic cancer is one of several types of cancer that has been linked to the genes primarily associated—and named for—breast cancer. As with breast cancer, however, genetic susceptibility is only a small part of the picture. Because the pancreas is where insulin is produced, pancreatic cancer is associated with diabetes, and diabetic people are more likely to develop cancer, as are people with other diseases of the pancreas. That means obesity and other risk factors for diabetes are also risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

It is also one of the cancers to which smokers are particularly vulnerable, and the vulnerability lasts a long time, taking years or even decades after quitting to return to non-smoker risk levels. Cutting back on red meat is suggested for cutting risk, but the evidence for a connection is unclear.

As with many forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer ordinarily has no obvious symptoms in the early stages. However, pancreatic cancer can lead to the appearance of jaundice. Other symptoms include poor appetite and weight loss, odd stools, or pain in the upper abdomen, though these are not as specific. Moreover, while diabetes is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, it can also be caused by it. That means the sudden onset of type 2 diabetes can be an indication that pancreatic cancer screening is in order, particularly in patients with no real risk factors for diabetes, those with a family history of pancreatic or breast cancer, or African-American patients.

Even with an early diagnosis, however, pancreatic cancer has a relatively low survival rate, around one in three, largely because it is such an aggressive form off cancer. Recently this month, researchers found that a gene called TRIM29, which is involved in a substantial majority of cases of pancreatic cancer, affects the way tumor cells grow. The pancreatic cancer variant of the gene also alters the structure of the tumor cells in such a way that they have an easier time moving around and spreading through the organs of the body.

Because it is so deadly even in the early stages, prevention is more important that screening for pancreatic cancer. The means quitting smoking, exercise, and a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

Scleroderma And Cancer

An estimated 300,000 Americans are living with systemic sclerosis. This is a chronic connective tissue disease more commonly called scleroderma, after the most common manifestation of the condition, a hardening and tightening of the skin along with internal connective tissue such as that which makes up the outsides of the internal organs. It is an autoimmune disease, caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking connective tissue as though it were disease, resulting in overproduction of collagen and the stiffening of tissue. It generally first appears between the ages of 30 and 50, and can be triggered or exacerbated by exposure to silica dust, certain industrial solvents, or other chemicals.

Another possible trigger for scleroderma, according to scientists, may be common forms of cancer. A gene mutation associated with cancer was determined in a recent study to produce the proteins flagged by the immune system as being from outside the body, setting off the immune response behind scleroderma. The idea of a genetic basis for scleroderma had previously been dismissed because the condition does not run in families, though it is more common among patients of particular ethnic backgrounds. This finding points at the gene in question being in the cancer itself, rather than the healthy tissue. While a link between scleroderma and cancer had previously been noticed, the causative relationship, if any, had not been established.

Scleroderma has also been referred to as CREST syndrome, an acronym for the major signs and symptoms of the condition. The C is calcinosis, in which calcium builds up in the skin and forms nodules. R is the constriction of blood vessels in the hands, called Raynaud’s phenomenon, which can impede blood flow in the fingers. E is esophageal dysfunction, or difficulty swallowing caused by the esophagus stiffening. S refers to sclerodactyly, the thickening of the skin on the fingers. T is the tiny blood vessels in the face and hands dilating, a phenomenon called telangiectasias. Other symptoms include acid reflux and oval shaped patches of thick skin called morphea.

January Is Radon Month

The second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States—after tobacco smoke—is invisible and odorless radon gas, which is blamed for 20,000 lung cancer deaths . Unlike smoking, it’s not something people expose themselves to intentionally. The radioactive element uranium is ubiquitous, albeit in small amounts, in soil, an is gradually decomposes into radon, which naturally occurs in gaseous form. In 1985, scientists realized that this gas comes into homes through the foundation, which is generally slightly porous. In some cases, the building materials can emit radon—this is seldom enough to cause problems, but it can add to the radon from the soil. Whatever the source, it gets trapped by the walls and roof. It can’t be seen or smelled, but it can be spotted with radon testing kits.

It is estimated that one in 15 American homes has what is considered to be a high level of radon, more than 4 picocuries per liter of air. Picocuries per liter is the measurement of the concentration of a radioactive substance, based on the radioactive decay of radium, which Marie and Pierre Curie studied. Excess radon gas can cause cancer. Radon is the most common cause of lung cancer among non-smokers—more than secondhand smoke—and one reason for this is that secondhand smoke can be seen and often avoided, while radon gas cannot be.

That is why home testing is so important. Winter, when the doors and windows are closed, is ordinarily the season of peak radon concentration, meaning if radon levels are not dangerously high in the winter they are unlikely to be dangerously hi in other parts of the year. Test kits are available, for short-term testing over a period of to days to three months, or long-term testing that can be longer than that. The reason even short-term testing can last so long is that the intention is to get an average radon level over time.

There’s no way to completely remove radon gas from the home; there’s always be some around. However sealing up cracks in and near the foundation can help prevent more from entering, and ventilation can help get out what is already there. Specialized radon reduction can can even be installed that is designed to get radon gas out of the home.

Leukemia And Bone Marrow

Researchers aren’t clear on what causes more than 350,000 people each year to develop caner of the bone marrow, white blood cells, and immune system, known as leukemia. Ionizing radiation is a causative factor in many cases, and certain viruses appear to account for others; there is also evidence of a genetic link, meaning a susceptibility to leukemia runs in families. Some kinds of chemical exposure, such as to benzene, have been found to cause leukemia in combination with other factors.

Leukemia is among the most common cancers among children. Indeed, it is one of the few cancers to affect children in significant number at all. However, the risk of leukemia actually rises with age. Of the 3,500 cases diagnosed in the United States each year, some 90 percent are in adults. In addition to age, risk factors include myelodysplasia and other blood disorders, chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other cancers, some kinds of genetic disorder, and smoking.

Studies have shown that leukemia patients have an abnormally high number of neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cell that plays a role in the immune system. This can result from infections or burns among other causes, but it appears to be a sauce rather than an effect of leukemia—a high neutrophil count leads to chronic myeloid leukemia, the cancer doesn’t raise the neutrophil count. That means lowering the count, such as, research suggests, by reducing the intake of fatty acids called ether lipids that sustain them, can help prevent cancer.

Although leukemia is responsive to chemotherapy, a common form of treatment in severe cases involves bone marrow transplants, which replaces the diseased tissue with healthy tissue grown from donor stem cells. This procedure, however, carries with it a high risk of what is called "graft-versus-host disease," in which the transplanted cells reject the new host body, treating its cells as an infection, and cause the equivalent of an autoimmune reaction in multiple organs. This is one of the primary marrow transplants fail. A new test, that can better assess risk for graft-versus-host disease and guide doctors in preventing or treating it, may help make transplants safer, so thy can help more patients.

Preventing And Treating Ovarian Cancer

As is often the case with the various forms of cancer, ovarian cancer, which is diagnosed in around 21,000 Americans each year, generally has no clear symptoms at first. This presents a major challenge to health care professionals, because early diagnosis is vital to treatment. Indeed, the survival rate in the early stages, before the tumor has spread, is more than double the overall survival rate for the disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

While it is called "the silent killer," ovarian cancer is not wholly asymptomatic, but the symptoms are not always strongly felt and are not specific to cancer—heartburn, back pain, frequent urination, gastrointestinal difficulties, and other symptoms could be any of a number of conditions, though gastrointestinal symptoms that grow steadily worse as opposed to fluctuating may indicate cancer.

Genetically, ovarian cancer is linked with breast cancer; the same genetic mutations that cause someone to be prone to one also indicate a heightened risk of the other, and a family history of either means risk of contracting both. Beyond that, ovarian cancer risk is tied to ovulation. Earlier menarche, later menopause, and not having children are all risk factors, though hormonal birth control can reduce the risk, as can breastfeeding. For similar reasons, fertility treatments and hormone treatment after menopause make ovarian cancer more of a threat.

Researchers have found that a diet high in vitamin A and fiber can help prevent ovarian cancer, as well as compounds called flavonols found in black tea and in citrus. One study also found that women who went up a skirt size in adulthood were one-third more likely to develop caner after menopause. Eating habits are also linked to mortality in people who do get ovarian cancer. In another study, people who had been eating healthily before being diagnosed had a 27 percent lower mortality rate over five years.

A new form of chemotherapy could help doctors fight ovarian cancer more effectively. The approach helps deliver chemo drugs with greater efficiency, making them better at shrinking tumors and allowing lower doses. This approach is expected to also be particularly effective on late-stage ovarian cancer.

Winter Risk Of Skin Cancer

Although it’s associated with summer fun in the sun, skin cancer remains a risk even in winter. Though people are more bundled up and exposing less skin to the elements—sunlight included—vacationers go to warm travel destinations, or hit the slopes where the glare from the snow contributes to skin cancer risk, and don’t necessarily think about it at all. However, just because the temperature is low doesn’t mean UV exposure isn’t high. Skin cancer comes from sunlight, not from warmth, and is a year-round threat, and all the worse when people don’t expect it.

In fact, skin cancer is one of the most common varieties of cancer to affect people in the United States, with more new cases per year than breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancers combined. The good news is it’s also among the most survivable. Because skin cancer happens on the skin, it is one of the easiest forms of cancer to catch early, when it is most easily treated. Skin cancer generally appears as an asymmetrical mole or other marking with a ragged border. The mole will be multicolored and more than a quarter inch in diameter, with the size and shape changing over time.

One in five people will develop skin cancer, but there are some simple preventative measures that can keep someone safe. Staying in the shade and avoiding sunburn as as important in winter as in summer. Sunblock on exposed areas, what few there are, may be needed even in the wintertime. The very beginning and very end of the season, when the weather may be warm enough to allow people to dress slightly lighter, are times to be especially wary.

Skiers and snowboarders should remember that UV exposure rises as much as five percent every thousand feet above sea level. Sunscreen is as important on the slopes as at the beach. Possibly more, since snow and wind can compromise its effectiveness, meaning frequent re-application is needed. As in the summer, the danger zone is in the hours from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., possible a little earlier. Sunglasses, too, as as important in winter as in summer sun, shielding the eyes from glare.

The Great American Smokeout

The biggest single thing a smoker can do to improve their health is to quit. In fact, in any given year, more than half of all smokers make at least one attempt to quit, and it is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Many people take this step about a month earlier—the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday of November. Today, tens of thousands of Americans are smoking their last cigarette. Since 1977, millions of Americans have taken the challenge to not light up for 24 hours, and many of them never did again.

In fact, 24 hours is enough to start to see some improvement. Health benefits actually begin within 20 minutes, and after 12 hours without a cigarette, most of the immediate physical effects have dissipated. The 24-hour period of the challenge roughly coincides with the time it takes to reach the peak of mental distress as well—24 hours after a person’s last cigarette, the anxiety is at or past it’s highest level, and it will only improve from that point on.

Even long-term effects of smoking generally begin to reverse themselves over time. Nicotine usually completely clears the body after 72 hours, and the cravings start to reduce in frequency and duration. After 10 days, most former smokers have no more than two episodes per day. Quitting-related anxiety and irritability go away entirely after less than four weeks. The lungs begin to recover in as little as a month. All in all, while some health effects are permanent, most are completely cleared up within about a decade of quitting.

There are a number of resources available to help people quit smoking. There are options besides quitting cold turkey—substitutes and alternative nicotine delivery systems such as patches can help quitters ease off and help reduce cravings. Prescription medications can also help with cravings by helping to get the brain used to not having nicotine. Other things that can help people quit are substitute activities, to help break the habit of having a cigarette in the hand at certain times.

Support groups can also help—life improvement projects can be easier with accountability. Even writing down the intention to quit smoking privately can be a motivator.

Spotting Stomach Cancer Early

The symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of a peptic ulcer: loss of appetite, bloating, heartburn, and nausea. This is what makes stomach cancer so difficult to identify quickly, and it contributes to it being one of the top five deadliest forms of cancer. Rather than get checked out, most people with symptoms that turn out to result from the early stages of stomach cancer take ulcer or indigestion medication—if that much, because sometimes the cancer produces no symptoms at all—and leaves it alone.

However, people who are at risk for stomach cancer need to be wary of it, and should see a medical professional if any of the symptoms appear. People who do have ulcers should be screened regularly as a precaution, since they are particularly prone to interpreting the cancer symptoms as being related to the ulcer. It’s also a risk factor for cancer. Other risk factors include smoking, a diet that includes a lot of salty or smoked foods but little in the way of fruits an vegetables, a family history of cancer, and infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This is a quite common bacterium, is actually quite common i the stomach, and usually harmless, but it can be a contributing factor in cancer.

Because it is so difficult to spot symptomatically, and the most reliable available screening procedure is an uncomfortable, complicated, expensive procedure called an upper GI series, stomach cancer frequently goes unrecognized early on, when it is most responsive to treatment. Researchers have now created a blood test they say can detect stomach cancer without any symptoms at all That could make it easier for people at risk—especially people with a family history of the disease—to be regularly tested.

Stomach cancer is normally treated with chemotherapy, but one group of researchers is now suggesting a possible alternative approach. Because the tumors rely on a nerve called the gastric vagus nerve, blocking the vagus nerve off or severing the connection between it and the tumor can slow tumor growth. One way to do that is with Botox, a form of botulism toxin often associated with plastic surgery. Botox blocks the nerve signal, preventing the tumor from receiving it and growing.