Best of Breast: news for week ending 30 Aug 2013

Here are the highlights of what this week had to offer on the latest developments and news about cancer treatments.


Pet dog saves owner’s life after sniffing out her breast cancer


Dog Scan – the latest tool in the early detection of breast cancer (photo credit:

My absolute top favourite of this week is a story of a woman whose dog sniffed out her breast tumour.  I love it because in an age where cancer detection is carried out with high-tech devices like Pet scans and ultrasound, and costs a fortune, along comes Daisy the spaniel, who nose trumps technology.  We’ve heard of CAT scans, now here comes a DOG scan!  It’s not the first time a dog has detected cancer in its owner, of course.  It just makes me wonder why there aren’t a trained posse of dogs in every hospital to help in early cancer detection.

2.  School-age drinking increases risk of breast cancer

I can’t see this stopping teenage girls from drinking, can you?  When you’re young, you think you’re invincible and believe that cancer is a disease of the old.

Maybe the government should insist on printing images of tumours and mastectomies on alcoholic drinks labels, akin to what they’re doing for cigarette-packet labelling, as a deterrent.

A study revealed that a female who averages one alcoholic drink per day between her first menstrual cycle and her first full-term pregnancy increases her risk of breast cancer by 13%.

3.  Stress switches on a gene that speeds up the spread of the disease … and stress doubles the risk of breast cancer

I don’t know if these studies are stating the obvious.  Women who’ve had breast cancer have always attributed the cause to a period of high-stress in their lives.  There have also been countless books written on the effects of stress and ill-health.  It’s a theory that most doctors tend to pooh-pooh, preferring to seek proof in science.  It is nice to know that finally, there is some sort of scientific proof for this belief.

Our own bodies help turn cancer against us by turning on a ‘master switch’ gene known as ATF3 which is expressed in response to stressful conditions in all types of cells.  Usually it causes normal and benign cells to commit suicide if they decide they have been irrevocably damaged.

But cancer cells somehow coax immune-system cells recruited to the site of a tumour to express ATF3 … the gene promotes the immune cells to behave erratically and give cancer cells an escape route to other parts of the body.

And in another study, stress has been shown to double the risk of breast cancer

My first question is:  how much stress is necessary to cause cancer?

And my second question:  now that they’ve found yet another cause of metastasis, what are they doing to cut off that route?

It’s all very well to tell us women to not get stressed, but let’s face it, the whole cancer journey is stressful, from the diagnosis, to the tests, the treatments, having to deal with families, friends and work.  If anyone can do this cancer business and not get stressed that person is a saint!

There is a suggestion that a drug to dampen the ATF3 gene could prevent metastasis, but the problem is that the gene is there for a purpose, to help us to adapt to stress.  If we tamper with that gene, there could be negative repercussions for the way we handle stress.

4.  Breast Cancer vaccine for HER2-negative breast cancer

Another tool in the arsenal against breast cancer, and in this case, through immunotherapy, which is still in its infancy.  I’m very pro-immunotherapies because they don’t have the side-effects that chemotherapy or radiotherapy have.

For Her2-negative node positive breast cancer, a breast cancer vaccine that attempts to stop recurrences of node-positive HER2-negative breast cancer. NeuVax works by stimulating the patient’s immune system to seek out and destroy residual cancer cells expressing the HER2/neu protein in patients who have achieved remission.

5.  New breast cancer radiation treatment protects organs from radiation

And about time too.  Radiation may kill cancer cells, but especially for women with left breast cancer, radiation exposure can lead to heart and lung damage.

A new technique for breast cancer patients that reduces the radiation exposure to the lungs and heart is now available.

It’s called Prone Breast Board radiation therapy and it is unique in that patients lie on their stomachs with their breasts suspended, isolating the breasts and significantly decreasing the radiation exposure to the lungs and heart.

6.  Blood cancer drug may stop spread of breast cancer

That’s good news.  More needs to be done for treatment of metastatic breast cancer, instead of the usual doom-laden “sorry, all we’ve got to offer you is palliative care”.

A drug used to treat blood cancers may also stop the spread of invasive breast cancer, scientists have found.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have discovered that in the lab and in animals, the drug decitabine turns on a gene coding for protein kinase D1 (PRKD1) that halts the ability of cancer cells to separate from a tumour and spread to distant organs.

7.  Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Found in Breast Cancer Tumors

Viruses have been implicated in the cause of cancer.  The human papilloma virus is one of them – it can cause ovarian cancer.  This study by the Centre for Biology of Chronic is based on work that suggests that we can cure and even prevent major diseases by targeting the foreign DNA fragments in the human body.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful – to be able to stop cancer from developing before it has a chance to get a foothold in the body?

Human CMV DNA and proteins have been found in breast cancer tumors according to two new studies.  Latent viruses like HCMV are the underlying cause of many major diseases.

8.  Calcium supplements may not prevent bone loss in women with breast cancer

Women undergoing treatment for breast cancer are widely prescribed calcium and vitamin D supplements to prevent and manage osteoporosis, an unwanted side effect of breast cancer therapies.

However, new research from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center finds that the recommended daily doses of these supplements … 500-1500 mg calcium and 200-1000 IU vitamin D, the doses commonly recommended, do not prevent loss of BMD in women with breast cancer.

Despite supplementation, women lost BMD in virtually every clinical trial reviewed.

Why do women undergoing treatment for breast cancer suffer bone loss?

The answer is in this article:

There are a variety reasons why breast cancer treatment may be at increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture.

While estrogen has a protective effect on bone, reduced levels of the hormone trigger bone loss.

As a direct result of chemotherapy or surgery, many breast cancer survivors experience a loss of ovarian function which leads to a drop in estrogen levels.

However, a number of studies suggest that chemotherapy may also have a direct negative effect on bone.

Finally, breast cancer itself may stimulate the production of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone and reduce bone density.

So what’s the solution?  I suspect that it means that there should be more testing of levels of Vitamin D and calcium and increasing supplementation if necessary.


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