The American Association for Cancer Research released its 2013 progress report
on Tuesday. Each year, it's the nation's most comprehensive, eye-opening collection of cancer-related statistics.
The major takeaways from this year's report:
1) There have been more than 1 million fewer cancer-related deaths since 1990, with nearly 14 million Americans having survived their fights with cancer. The research is working, and it's saving lives.
2) Even with progress, cancer remains a serious public health threat. From the report: "Even with the advances in cancer research, it is projected that more than 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and more than 580,350 Americans
will die from one of the more than 200 types of cancer. Global cancer incidence is predicted to increase from 12.8 million new cases in 2008 to 22.2 million in 2030."
3) Research is a wise investment. The budget for the National Institutes of Health continues to shrink annually, and that's not including the devastating 5.1-percent budget cut ($1.6 billion) that came as a result of sequestration. Cancer is an expensive disease, and the report warns that "if the United States does not increase its investments in the scientific research needed to develop more effective interventions, the increased economic burden will cost lives and harm the economy."
The majority of the report can be understood by taking a look at this tremendous infographic the folks at the AACR put together (click "Read More" to see the infographic):
The English language does not stay set in its ways. Language, like anything else in our culture, changes and evolves over time. Words that mean one thing to a generation can mean something completely different to another group of people. Some words fall out of favor, while other words become so broad that their definitions are practically impossible to pin down.
Cancer has become such a word.
: "A malignant and invasive growth or tumor, especially one originating in epithelium, tending to recur after excision and to metastasize to other sites."
From the National Cancer Institute
: "Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems."But here is where confusion can set in: "Cancer is not just one disease but many diseases. There are more than 100 different types of cancer."Cancer has become such a broad term that it has confused even medical professionals, where improved screening methods has led to any disease that is vaguely cancer-ish to sometimes get labeled as cancer, occasionally incorrectly.
Earlier this week, a panel of medical experts at the NCI attempted to solve this problem, looking for ways to sharpen our language to prevent unnecessary treatments.
"Screening and patient awareness have increased the chance of identifying a spectrum of cancers, some of which are not life-threatening," a working group of the National Cancer Institute wrote in a commentary in the online version of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Policies that prevent or reduce the chances of overdiagnosis and avoid overtreatment are needed, while maintaining those gains by which early detection is a major contributor to decreasing mortality."
Diseases that share similar attributes to cancer can often be minor, non-life-threatening conditions. However, as soon as the word "cancer" gets attached to any diagnosis, the patient's anxiety level understandably shoots upward as he or she seeks immediate treatment to alleviate the issue.
The committee recommended changing the names of some conditions and reserving the term "cancer" for lesions "with a reasonable likelihood of lethal progression if left untreated."
"More is not always better," said Laura Esserman, co-chair of the committee and director of the Breast Care Center at the University of California-San Francisco. "It's pretty clear that cancer - the word now refers to a wide range of conditions, some of which will not progress and will not kill you. ... We have to be a little bit more savvy."• Panel: Redefine 'cancers' to reduce overtreatment
via Arizona Daily Star
, July 30, 2013)
Photo: Stockbyte via Getty Images
The big news in cancer research this week had to do with an eye-opening paper published in the July 10 edition of Neurology
: Inverse occurrence of cancer and Alzheimer disease
The study's conclusion: "The occurrence of both cancer and AD dementia increases exponentially with age, but with an inverse relationship; older persons with cancer have a reduced risk of AD dementia and vice versa. As AD dementia and cancer are negative hallmarks of aging and senescence, we suggest that AD dementia, cancer, and senescence could be manifestations of a unique phenomenon related to human aging."
Both cancer and Alzheimer's Disease are devastating illnesses. If one can provide clues in how to combat the other, we could conceivably find ways to reduce the impacts of each
"Since the number of cases of both Alzheimer's disease and cancer increase exponentially as people age, understanding the mechanisms behind this relationship may help us better develop new treatments for both diseases," said study author Dr. Massimo Musicco, an Alzheimer's expert at the National Research Council of Italy in Milan.
Research has been conducted in this specific area in the past, but many medical professionals were not receptive to it. Catherine Roe, of the Washington University School of Medicine, told USA Today
that fellow scientists laughed at her
in 2005 when her own research first suggested a link between Alzheimer's and cancer.
"It could open avenues of investigation that people haven't even thought of yet," she said. "They've been looking at the usual suspects for so long."
• Discovery that cancer may protect against Alzheimer's could lead to new treatments
, July 11, 2013)
• Study finds inverse link between cancer, Alzheimer's
, July 10, 2013)
• Inverse occurrence of cancer and Alzheimer disease
, July 10, 2013)
Our 12th issue of "Act Against Cancer" hit mailboxes this past weekend, and we're very proud of this edition.
We cover a lot of ground in this issue, with cutting-edge research, public safety, mentor/mentee relationships, and generous donors each receiving coverage.
In this issue:
• Wear your vegetables
: With skin cancer emerging as one of the world’s most prevalent forms of cancer, researchers are using every tool at their disposal to fight this disease. The tool of choice for Sally Dickinson, PhD
• Digging deeper
: Uranium exposure has led to some devastating public health consequences, including potential increased risk for certain forms of cancer. It’s an issue that truly hits home for Monica Yellowhair, PhD
• Raising the bar
: The field of cancer biology has taken incredible leaps forward in recent years, but these advances are just the first steps toward the ultimate goal of preventing and curing cancer. It will fall to the next generation of research scientists to turn that goal into reality.
Download the PDF version
to read about our Protect Your Skin program, the latest Phoenix Friends of the Arizona Cancer Center event, the Ovarian Cancer Alliance, the Arizona Diamondbacks' Race Against Cancer, Better Than Ever, the Director's Circle, and a message from UACC Director David Alberts.
Brandon Vick/University of Rochester
In the fight against cancer, many researchers are forced to think outside the box in order to battle this nasty foe.
Cancer is brutal and unpredictable, so scientists often explore seemingly wild ideas in order to level the playing field.
This week, we've seen encouraging cancer-fighting stories come from very unlikely sources: naked mole rats, and outer space.
Researchers at the University of Rochester have been analyzing the naked mole rat, an East African critter that has fascinated scientists for decades because it simply does not get cancer - or, at the very least, no scientist has ever observed a cancerous naked mole rat.
In an interview with ABCNews.com
, biology professor Vera Gorbunova said that her students were "analyzing mole rat fibroblasts, connective tissue cells that secrete collagen protein," when they discovered that the liquid containing the fibroblasts became uncommonly syrupy after a few days. This "goo" turned out to be "long hyaluronan molecules [that] told cells when to stop reproducing." This goo, in fact, prevented the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells. It prevented cancer. More research is needed to see if this extract could work for humans, but these initial findings, published in the science journal Nature, are fascinating.
“We were very lucky in many ways,” Dr. Gorbunova said. “In my experience, the most important findings are actually when you work with something but things don’t go exactly as planned. Dr. Jeanne Becker/Nasa Spinoff
"We realized, wow, this goo is important."
As for outer space, the lack of gravity might provide an ideal environment for cellular analysis.
According to Popular Science
, "biologists have found that microgravity research and other space-based experiments provide greater insight into abnormal cell behavior.In Earth-bound labs, cells flatten out and can't "fully mimic the three-dimensional architecture shaped by proteins and carbohydrates of a working human organ." But in space, scientists might be able to get a much more accurate view of these cells.
"So many things change in 3-D, it's mind-blowing -- when you look at the function of the cell, how they present their proteins, how they activate genes, how they interact with other cells," said Jeanne Becker, PhD, a cell biologist at Nano3D Biosciences in Houston and principal investigator for the CBOSS-1-Ovarian study. "The variable that you are most looking at here is gravity, and you can't really take away gravity on Earth. You have to go where gravity is reduced."• Naked Mole Rats Have Cancer-Proof ‘Goo’ (ABCNews.com, June 20, 2013)• The Cure For Cancer Could Be Found In Space
, June 25, 2013)
Destiny Hessel (photo by Sandy Hessel)
No child should ever have to deal with something as traumatic as a cancer diagnosis.
A person's youth is supposed to be sacred. It's a time for people to experience carefree enjoyment of the world around them.
It's not that simple for young cancer patients. All of the treatment sessions and hospital visits make a person grow up much faster than they should have to. Sadly, this often means they have to miss out on some of defining youth experiences.
The fine folks at the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern Arizona
are doing amazing things to help kids reclaim their youth.
On Saturday, the Candlelighters held their eighth annual Dream Night Prom
in Tucson, an event to help bring some much-needed normalcy and fun into the lives of young cancer patients.
From Kimberly Matas at the Arizona Daily Star
: "The first Dream Night Prom, in 2006, was the creation of teenager Carina Groves, who envisioned the event as a high school senior project. The 50 teens who attended found the prom to be both fun and healing, and encouraged the Candlelighters to make it an annual event."
Events like this are "especially meaningful to teens and their families because a cancer diagnosis can cause challenges that make a normal social life difficult. Treatments can cause hair loss, weight changes and other physical challenges. Long hospital stays can disrupt usual social activities, and important milestones are often missed."
Thank you so much to everyone responsible for events like this.• Teens with cancer get their own special Tucson prom
(Arizona Daily Star
, May 5, 2013)
Today, we found out that the University of Arizona Cancer Center
became the first institution in Southern Arizona (and only the fourth in the entire state) to be awarded a three-year term of accreditation from the American College of Radiation.
It's a prestigious, well-deserved honor for our tremendous Radiation Oncology
team, which has been working hard for years to earn this accreditation.
From the official ACR release
The ACR is the nation’s oldest and most widely accepted radiation oncology accrediting body, with nearly 500 accredited sites, and 25 years of accreditation experience. The ACR seal of accreditation represents the highest level of quality and patient safety. It is awarded only to facilities meeting specific Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards developed by ACR after a peer-review evaluation by board-certified radiation oncologists and medical physicists who are experts in the field.
Patient care and treatment, patient safety, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures, and quality assurance programs are assessed. The findings are reported to the ACR Committee on Radiation Oncology Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report they can use for continuous practice improvement.
Dave Dravecky had a special left arm.
Think about it. There are nearly 7 billion people on Earth. Less than one percent of them - a fraction of a fraction - will ever throw a Major League fastball. Dave Dravecky was one of them.
He grew up idolizing Sandy Koufax and Vida Blue - other lefties who could fire off 90-plus mile-per-hour fastballs. He spent most of the 1980s sharing the same occupation as his heroes: big-league pitcher. Incredible.
It all came to a heartbreaking halt on Aug. 10, 1989, when Dravecky suffered one of the most horrifying injuries anyone can suffer on a baseball diamond. His left arm - that special, gifted arm - snapped in half. Dravecky, a desmoid tumor survivor, pulled off one of the most incredible comebacks earlier that season, defying the odds and returning to the mound 10 months after his diagnosis.
But that cancer had weakened his deltoid to the point where his arm could no longer survive the torque of a 90 mile-per-hour fastball. After the injury, the cancer reappeared (along with dozens of surgeries and a brutal 10-month staph infection) and claimed his arm for good. In order to survive, the doctors would need to amputate. That left arm that made all of his dreams come true was now threatening to ruin his life.
For some people, that could be too much to bear. For Dave Dravecky, it started him on a path of spiritual and personal discovery.
Dravecky told his story on Thursday morning at the annual NACCDO-PAN conference
in Denver. With nearly every American cancer center represented in the audience, Dravecky delivered a moving, emotional, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious speech that reminded us what it takes to defeat this awful disease.
Dravecky took us through the dizzying highs of his professional baseball career, along with the heartbreaking lows of the identity crisis and depression he went through when he lost his ability to pitch.
"We're all on a journey for a common goal, and that's to find a cure for cancer," Dravecky said at one of the speech's most emotionally charged moments. "It's teamwork that will help us achieve that goal."
Dravecky also relayed a story about the time he met his idol, Sandy Koufax. He wanted to shake his hand for serving as such an inspiration in his life. As a young, baseball-loving child growing up in Wyoming, I remember watching Dravecky pitch through the 80s and how devastatingly sad I was to witness Dravecky's injury on television in 1989. Seeing him speak today was one of the more inspiring moments of my life.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a hand I need to shake.
Here's how scientific research works, in a nutshell. Each time a new, potentially groundbreaking cancer treatment surfaces, the scientific community attempts to poke holes in it, searching for ways that it could fail or otherwise harm patients. This kind of skepticism is a vital part of the scientific method.
This time, it's the treatment itself that is poking holes.
Researchers are currently experimenting with a process called irreversible electroporation (IRE), which uses millions of electrical pulses per second to kill cancer cells but spares nearby tissue.An April 15 article
in the British paper the Daily Mail calls IRE a "minimally invasive cancer treatment that punches microscopic holes" in tumors, but doesn't harm surrounding healthy tissue.
Dr. Constantinos Sofocleous, an interventional radiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, "completed all 30 treatment sessions with no major complications, showing IRE to be safe enough for further investigation in larger clinical trials." He presented his findings at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans.This treatment method involves generating strong electrical pulses to make microscopic holes in the cancer cell membranes, which throws the tumor cell into total disarray, as the lack of balance between the molecules inside and outside that cell leads to its demise.
Dr. Sofocleuous: "The combination of minimally invasive surgery and IRE allows for faster recovery with less tissue injury, and it is hoped, a better long-term outcome than with traditional surgery."Cancer treatment that punches holes in tumours could be latest weapon in war against disease
, April 15, 2013)
Roger Ebert died on Thursday at the age of 70. Everyone knew him as the film critic with a famous thumb. I knew him through his writing — that lovely, open-hearted writing that couldn't help but inspire anyone who used art as a way to try to understand life.
Ebert is the type of public figure who will leave many lasting legacies, as he meant something different to everyone. Among his most important accomplishments? He proved that a cancer diagnosis shouldn't prevent someone from living a happy, productive life.
Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002. That cancer claimed his jaw in 2006, leaving him unable to speak or enjoy food and drink, which led to this touching essay
in 2010. He turned to Twitter
, gaining a large, loyal following as he used social media to connect with people in a way that few others have been able to replicate.He continued to write
. When he wasn't writing, he was brainstorming things he could write about. He kept reviewing films, exposing more and more of himself — his thoughts, fears, passions — in his critiques. He somehow became more productive after his diagnosis.
This was a man who took nothing for granted. He knew he had a gift, and he knew how to share it. Cancer was not the end of the line for Roger Ebert. In many ways, his cancer diagnosis helped amplify his best qualities — his curiosity, work ethic, and compassion.
Many wonderful writers cite Ebert as a primary inspiration. Here is Will Leitch's story
. Here is Chris Jones's landmark Esquire piece, "Roger Ebert: The Essential Man
." There are dozens more, as Ebert's influence runs wide and deep throughout our culture.
In the 11 years Ebert lived with cancer, he produced more A-level content than most writers do in a lifetime. We'll remember him not only as America's most important film critic, but as a man who never let cancer stand in his way.