Best of Breast: news for week ending 31 January 2014

A summary of the Google news alerts for breast cancer and cancer, for the week ending 31 January 2014.

fruit fly

The latest tool in cancer detection …

In previous weeks, we’ve had mice and rats, naked mole rats and even sloths as vectors for cancer cures – they make for cute photos.  I tried hard this week but the only creature that turned up to save the world from cancer was a fruit fly.  As the eeurgh factor of the fruit fly is 100% there is no photo – sorry!

The lead item is a drug that supposedly stops breast cancer metastasis.  It’s not the only drug in the pipeline that is supposed to do this, and unfortunately, it’s still at the mice-and-rat-testing stage.  I hate getting all excited and then disappointed.

Another study this week shows how stem cells and the daughters of stem cells live for a long time, often leading to recurrences.  What the study doesn’t mention is the unfortunate fact that stem cells are not killed by chemotherapy.  It’s something that a lot of cancer patients who are in remission haven’t been told – they think chemotherapy is the be-all-and-end-all (or in the words of my breast surgeon:  “disinfectant”), and it isn’t (disinfectant implies total cleansing) there are still stem cells there.  That’s why we need more research needs to be done in how to deal with these Frankenstein cells, and take away this uncertainty and fear in the cancer journey.

Fruit and veg feature this week.  Tomatoes:  scientists have genetically-modified tomatoes to contain more anthocyanins, substances that can fight cancer.  There’s a trial using olive oil for breast density to see if it can prevent breast cancer.

Two more must read articles:  one on melatonin, showing it has the potential to slow down the growth of tumours in triple-negative breast cancer.  That’s great news for this very challenging type of breast cancer.  Another on how some chemotherapy can be toxic to the heart – hmm … isn’t this stating the obvious?


Another use for tamoxifen [Nolvadex] and it’s not breast cancer

Finally, there’s some bizarre news (not new, apparently it’s been around for some time) – bodybuilders are using Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) and Arimidex to suppress estrogen in their body and negate the effects of steroids in their bodies.  Why, God, why?

1.  New drug stops breast cancer from spreading

  • Nearly 12,000 breast cancer patients will develop metastasis each year – sometimes even several years after initial discovery of a breast lump.
  • Researchers at Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, are working on a novel compound that targets a well-studied protein called Bcl3, which has been shown to play a crucial role in breast cancer’s metastasis.
  • They revealed that by suppressing the Bcl3 gene in mice, the spread of cancer was suppressed by more than 80 percent.
  • Clarkson  teamed up with researchers Dr. Andrew Westwell and Dr. Andrea Brancale from the Cardiff University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to develop chemicals that inhibit the Bcl3 gene through the use of computer modeling.
  • Through their computer models, Westwell and Brancale discovered a pocket on the surface of Bcl3 that is essential for its function.
  • After screening a virtual compound library for chemicals that could fit into this pocket, they were then able to identify a drug candidate that could potentially inhibit Bcl3 by filling in the space and disrupting the gene function.
  • To test its efficacy, the drug candidate was then used on mice with metastatic cancer.
  • The researchers found that the drug effectively halted the development of the mice’s tumors.
  • While the drug has only shown to be effective in rodent models, Clarkson is optimistic that such a compound could drastically alter the way breast cancer is treated in humans.

For more information:  Bcl3 selectively promotes metastasis of ErbB2-driven mammary tumors and Design, Synthesis and Evaluation of Bcl3 Inhibitors as Novel Antitumour Agents

2.  Melatonin shows potential to slow tumor growth in triple-negative breast cancer

  • An early stage study shows melatonin – a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep and awake cycles – may have the potential to help slow the growth of certain breast cancer tumors, according to researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo.
  • The study, published online in the journal PLoS One, finds that melatonin may inhibit tumor growth and cell production, as well as block the formation of new blood vessels in ER-negative breast cancer models.
  • “These early stage research results with the melatonin drug in a triple-negative breast cancer animal models achieved in our lab has not been seen anywhere else,” says study co-author Adarsh Shankar, a research assistant in the Department of Radiology at Henry Ford Hospital.

For more information:  PLoS One – Effect of Melatonin on Tumor Growth and Angiogenesis in Xenograft Model of Breast Cancer


Not a mouse … but has cancer-fighting properties. These purple tomatoes have been genetically modified to have a higher amount of anthocyanins, an antioxidant said to fight cancer. Image credit: John Innes Centre

3.  Special genetically-modified cancer-fighting tomatoes to be tested

  • A crop of genetically modified purple tomatoes designed to fight cancer has been grown and harvested in a greenhouse in Leamington, Ont.
  • The purple tomatoes have been genetically modified to have a higher amount of anthocyanins, an antioxidant found in blueberries, blackberries and plums. It’s what gives those fruit their purple colours. Anthocyanins are also said to fight cancer.

4.  Fruit flies may help detect cancer

  • Fruit flies can distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones using their olfactory senses, according to a new study which may lead to fast and efficient pre-screening techniques to detect tumours.
  • The study is the first to demonstrate that fruit flies are able to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells via their olfactory sense, researchers said.
  • Researchers at University of Konstanz and the University La Sapienza in Rome, Italy, described how characteristic patterns in the olfactory receptors of transgenic Drosophilae can be recorded when activated by scent.
  • Not only could a clear distinction be made between healthy cells and cancer cells; moreover, groupings could be identified among the different cancer cells.

For more information:  Nature – Scientific Reports:  More than apples and oranges – Detecting cancer with a fruit fly’s antenna

5.  Long-lived breast stem cells could retain cancer legacy

  • Researchers from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have discovered that breast stem cells and their ‘daughters’ have a much longer lifespan than previously thought, and are active in puberty and throughout life.
  • The longevity of breast stem cells and their daughters means that they could harbour genetic defects or damage that progress to cancer decades later, potentially shifting back the timeline of breast cancer development.
  • The finding is also integral to identifying the ‘cells of origin’ of breast cancer and the ongoing quest to develop new treatments and diagnostics for breast cancer.
  • Now, in a project led by Dr Anne Rios and Dr Nai Yang Fu that tracked normal breast stem cells and their development the team has discovered that breast stem cells actively maintain breast tissue for most of the life of the individual and contribute to all major stages of breast development.
  • These stem cells – and their ‘daughter’ progenitor cells – are capable of self renewing, damage to their genetic code could lead to breast cancer 10 or 20 years later.
  • The research was published today in the journal Nature.

For more information:  Nature – In situ identification of bipotent stem cells in the mammary gland

6.  Pepsi One and Potential Cancer-Causing Chemical

  • Pepsi One has higher levels of a potential cancer-causing chemical than other soft drinks, according to a study released Thursday by Consumer Reports magazine.
  • Researchers looked at levels of a chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), which is found in artificial caramel coloring used in soft drinks.

7.  Olive oil may help prevent breast cancer

  • A primary component of olive oil known as hydroxytyrosol has been the subject of a Houston Methodist study of women who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.
  • This is the first of its kind study in the United States which focuses on the changes in breast density after one year of treatment.
  • Breast density and breast cancer risk have been linked in recent studies.
  • The primary goal of this study is to show a significant decrease in breast density with olive oil consumption.
  • In this study 50 premenopausal and 50 postmenopausal women will be enrolled.
  • Each of the patients will take one 25 mg hydroxytyrosol capsule for 12 months and undergo checkups every three months.
  • It has been shown in previous research that olive oil provides many health benefits which include lowering the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and possibly stroke.

For more information:

8.  Women Treated For Hodgkin’s Disease Earlier Are At Higher Risks Of Developing Breast Cancer: Study

  • A recent study finds women treated for Hodgkin’s disease during their teens have greater chances of developing breast cancer later.
  •  The study conducted by researchers led by Günther Schellong, is one of the longest observational studies on later effects of Hodgkin’s disease, with an unusually long follow-up time (more than 30 years).
  •  The researchers based their findings on 590 women, who came for diagnosis of secondary breast cancer between 1975 and 1998. According to the researchers, 19 percent of the women who  received radio therapy sessions as a part of treatment for Hodgkin’s disease were at higher risk of developing breast cancer by their mid-30s.
  •  The study authors also recommend that girls below the age of nine taking radio therapy sessions should have minimal exposure of their breasts to the therapy, which may considerably reduce chances of breast cancer.
  • As a consequence to this study, an advanced screening test has been devised by German Consortium for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer to confirm breast cancer in high risk patients.

For more information:  And:

9.  Breast Cancer: Don’t Delay Chemo

  • Delaying adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer more than 60 days significantly increased the odds of premature death and distant metastasis, a review of almost 7,000 cases showed.
  • As compared with starting adjuvant therapy within 30 days of surgery, initiating chemotherapy at 61 days or later was associated with a 19% increase in the risk of premature death.
  • In the subgroup of patients with stage III disease, the mortality risk increased by 76%. Relapse-free survival (RFS) and distant relapse-free survival (DRFS) worsened regardless of stage at diagnosis, according toMariana Chavez-MacGregor, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues.
  • Patients with high-risk breast cancer (triple negative, HER2-positive, or stage III) seemed most susceptible to the adverse effects of delayed chemotherapy, as reported online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

10.  Cancer treatment can be toxic to the heart

  • While oncologists have long known that some conventional chemo drugs can damage the heart, they’re now also prescribing a range of newer targeted therapies that can be cardio-toxic.
  • Also, more people are surviving cancer and living longer, giving any heart complications from drugs or radiation more time to develop.
  • The vast majority of patients do not develop heart disease from cancer treatment.
  • The incidence of heart trouble ranges between 2 per cent and 12 per cent from the traditional chemotherapy drugs associated with cardiovascular effects.
  • Exact numbers are difficult to gauge, as a lot depends on the dosage, a person’s cardiac risk factors, and additional cancer drugs received.
  • It was the wonder drug trastuzumab (Herceptin), introduced in 2005 for early stage breast cancer, that heightened concern about cardiac problems.
  • Herceptin treats HER-2 positive breast cancer, which affects about 20 per cent of patients. A targeted drug, it goes after cancer cells that produce too much of the HER-2 protein.
  • The downside: Initially, about 27 per cent of Herceptin-treated patients with advanced cancer who were also receiving anthracyclines developed cardiomyopathy, a weakened heart muscle. Some heart cells express the HER-2 protein and get targeted.
  • Researchers are investigating which biomarkers, molecules in the blood, best indicate early cardiac concerns so that a simple blood test could sound a warning. They are also studying which imaging tools should be used to screen for cardiac injury and after-effects.
  • A new medical subspecialty, cardio-oncology, has evolved to better detect and prevent cardiac complications while delivering optimal cancer treatment and to spread awareness that past treatment could be a risk factor.
  • In November, the Canadian Cardiac Oncology Network (CCON), founded in 2011 to bring health care professionals together, set up a website with information for medical providers and patients.

11.  Bladder Cancer Linked to HER2 Breast Cancer Gene

  • Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a known driver of some breast cancers, is amplified in the micropapillary urothelial carcinoma form of bladder cancer, and this amplification is associated with a greater risk of death, according to the findings of a recent study.
  • John C. Cheville, MD, a pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues summarized this finding in a paper for Modern Pathology.

12.  Bodybuilders Taking Breast Cancer Drugs to Minimize Testosterone Side Effects

  • Many bodybuilders take breast cancer drugs like Tamoxifen and Arimidex to stop the production of estrogen, produced by their high testosterone levels.
  • It is a well-known trick to decrease the side effects of having too much estrogen in the body.
  • “All they do is block estrogen,” Fred Rowlett, president of the North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation, said of the nonchalant attitude weight lifters have about taking cancer drugs. “When you don’t have estrogen, you gain nothing but muscle.”

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