Best of Breast: news for week ending 30 May 2014

The latest developments in the world of breast cancer and cancer, from Google Alerts, for the week ending 30 May 2014.

The lead item is about the launch of swimwear for women who’ve had mastectomies (and not had reconstruction).  Instead of hiding the mastectomy and scar, the Monokini 2.0 highlights the space where the mastectomy was, in a tasteful way.

I have to applaud the women who modelled the Monokini – I don’t think I’d ever have the guts to do what they did.  Mind you, some of the scars look very discrete (and almost invisible) and the eye just skims over the space – strange but true.  Maybe if I looked like an Amazon, I wouldn’t think twice about getting into a slip of orange!

The other item of note is a study showing that calorie restriction can make it less likely for breast cancer to metastasise, especially for triple-negative breast cancer.


1.  Monokini: A project to celebrate cancer survival

  • Losing a breast doesn’t have to be a thing to be ashamed of.
  • That’s the attitude of the Monokini 2.0 project, which gathers a group of models together to show off some very special swimsuit designs with a common theme: They are all made for women who have had a partial mastectomy.
  • Rather than cover the scar or hide it with a false breast form, the suits highlight the space where the breast was, since it no longer needs to be hidden.
  • Headed up by art duo Tärähtäneet ämmät / Nutty Tarts (Miss Katriina Haikala and Miss Vilma Metteri), the haute couture collection features the work of seven fashion designers — six from Finland and one from the U.S.
  • The original idea came from Miss Elina Halttunen, who is a cancer survivor herself and has had a partial mastectomy. She looked from swimwear to fit her, but never found any, so she decided to create her own.

2.  Eating fewer calories could help breast cancer patients

  • Reducing calorie intake by a third improved breast cancer survival rate
  • Dieting may strengthen tissue around tumour so cancer cells can’t spread
  • Maintaining a healthy weight also makes treatment more effective
  • In earlier studies, scientists had shown that calorie restriction boosted the tumor-killing effects of radiation therapy.
  • This study aimed to examine which molecular pathways were involved in this cooperative effect.
  • Mice were fed a calorie-restricted diet.  The researchers noticed that microRNAs, a type of RNA that regulates other genes in the cell, decreased the most when mice were treated with both radiation and calorie restriction.
  • More specifically, the two microRNAs the decreased were miR 17 and 20. This decrease resulted in the production of proteins involved in maintaining the extracellular matrix.
  • “Calorie restriction promotes epigenetic changes in the breast tissue that keep the extracellular matrix strong.  A strong matrix creates a sort of cage around the tumor, making it more difficult for cancer cells to escape and spread to new sites in the body.”
  • Understanding the link to miR 17 also gives researchers a molecular target for diagnosing cancers that are more likely to metastasize and, potentially, for developing a new drug to treat cancers.
  • The triple negative subtype of breast cancer – one of the most aggressive forms – is less likely to spread, or metastasize, to new sites in the body when mice were fed a restricted diet.
  • According to the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, scientists are now testing the theory in humans and is enrolling patients.
  • Women undergoing radiation therapy receive nutritional counselling and are guided through their weight loss plan.
  • Women eat on average between 2,000 and 2,200 calories a day which would be cut to between 1,200 and 1,400.

For more information:  “The metastatic potential of triple-negative breast cancer is decreased via caloric restriction-mediated reduction of the miR-17~92 cluster,Breast Cancer Res Treat, DOI 10.1007/s10549-014-2978-7, 2014

3.  Interleukin-2 on verge of revival

  • IL-2 is a protein made by the body to spur the development of T cells in response to threats such as pathogens or cancer.
  • Most cancer immunotherapies are designed to fire up T cells, but the effects can sometimes be deadly.
  • Patients must be closely monitored while receiving high-dose IL-2 treatment, because it can cause skin rashes, short-term neurological disturbances and dangerous drops in blood pressure.
  •  Given the risks and the difficulty of administering high-dose IL-2, patients and doctors often baulk at using the treatment, which is approved in the United States for use against advanced melanoma and kidney cancer.
  • But Howard Kaufman, a tumour immunologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, argues that IL-2’s bad reputation is outdated.
  • Fatalities have declined as physicians have learned how to manage side effects, he says.
  • And data from Kaufman and others suggest that more patients benefit from the drug than previously realized.
  • At the ASCO meeting this week, Kaufman will present an analysis of IL-2 treatment in people who received the therapy for kidney cancer between 2007 and 2012. Tumours shrank in only about 15% of patients, but they stopped growing in another 15%. Those people, said to have ‘stable’ cancer, lived longer than people whose cancers kept growing after treatment.
  • Ott and Kaufman are among researchers trying to make IL-2 therapy less toxic.
  • At the meeting, they will describe their plans to test NHS-IL2, a fusion of IL-2 and an antibody that targets the DNA that is released by dying tumour cells.
  • The antibody, developed by EMD Serono of Rockland, Massachusetts, directs IL-2 to tumour cells, helping to minimize its effects on healthy tissue.
  • Another strategy, developed by a team led by John Frelinger, a cancer researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, involves modifying IL-2 so that it is inactive until it encounters enzymes that are particularly abundant around tumour cells.
  • “IL-2 was not meant to be expressed at high levels throughout the body,” says Frelinger. “That’s where the trouble with IL-2 therapy starts.”
  • Others are experimenting with ways to expand the number of patients who respond to IL-2 treatment.
  • In addition to activating cancer-fighting T cells, IL-2 stimulates regulatory T cells, which keep immune responses in check. Alkermes, a biotechnology company based in Dublin, is modifying the IL-2 protein so that it is less likely to activate regulatory T cells, and thus has the potential to generate a stronger immune response at lower doses.
  • Because some of the toxic side effects of high-dose IL-2 seem to be independent of immune responses, it is possible that the approach will provide a more tolerable therapy.

For more information:  Nature 509, 541–542 (29 May 2014) doi:10.1038/509541a, “Old cancer drug gets fresh look”

4.  How breast cancer ‘expresses itself’

  • Dr. Ella Evron and Dr. Ayelet Avraham of the TAU-affiliated Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, together with Prof. Saraswati Sukumar of Johns Hopkins, have found that “gene regulation,” the process that shuts off certain parts of a cell’s DNA code or blueprint in healthy breast tissue cells, may also play a critical role in the development of breast cancer.
  • The researchers compared the DNA methylation profiles of thousands of genes in breast, colon, lung, and endometrial tissues, selecting one gene, TRIM29, for further analysis.
  • They found that the TRIM29 gene bore a unique DNA regulation in normal and cancerous breast tissues as opposed to other organ tissues.
  • “In breast tissue we found that this gene was expressed in normal cells and silenced in the cancer cells,” said Dr. Avraham.
  • “In contrast, in other bodily tissues, the gene was silenced in normal cells and over-expressed in tumors. This emphasizes the link between tissue-specific gene regulation and the development of cancer.”

For more information:  Tissue Specific DNA Methylation in Normal Human Breast Epithelium and in Breast CancerPLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (3): e91805 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091805

5.  Female Hodgkin survivors need breast cancer screening

  • Women who survived Hodgkin lymphoma in childhood and who underwent radiation therapy for the cancer should be screened for breast cancer starting at an early age, a new study reaffirms.
  • The work, by researchers at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, shows that screening with MRI — magnetic resonance imaging — detects breast cancers in these women at a very early stage, when the prognosis for a cure is good.
  • Hodgkin lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system — has a high cure rate, over 90 per cent. But in the past the treatment traditionally involved heavy doses of radiation to the chest, neck and armpit areas, a therapy that raises the risk of developing breast cancer in female survivors.
  • Previously established recommendations suggest these women should begin breast cancer screening at an earlier-than-normal age, which is 50 in many jurisdictions and 40 in some others.
  • Senior author Dr. David Hodgson, a radiation oncologist at Princess Margaret, said for survivors of childhood Hodgkin lymphomas, breast cancer screening should begin at age 25 or eight years after treatment, whichever comes later.
  • Nina Pandolfo is one of the women who simply did not know.
  • Pandolfo, from Innisfil, Ont., was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 1992 when she was 19. She recalls it as a frightening time, learning she had to fight cancer when she would have preferred to be partying with friends.
  • Chemotherapy and 30 radiation sessions that targeted her chest cured Pandolfo of her cancer. She had no idea, however, that it left her with a greater risk of developing another type, breast cancer, down the road.
  • She was 37 when she discovered a lump in her armpit. Testing led to a biopsy and the breast cancer diagnosis. She remembers being flabbergasted when, on her first consultation appointment at Princess Margaret, she read in a pamphlet that a risk factor for breast cancer was having survived Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • “And I thought to myself: ‘Wow, I can’t believe it. The thing that cured me 19 years ago came back as breast cancer. And I still can’t believe it today,” Pandolfo said.

For more information:  American Journal of Cancer, DOI: 10.1002/cncr.28747, “Breast cancer detection among young survivors of pediatric Hodgkin lymphoma with screening magnetic resonance imaging”

6.  Low adiponectin levels means high breast-cancer risk

  • Circulating adiponectin predicts risk of breast cancer, according to a study recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
  • The study shows women who had highest amounts of adiponectin in their blood stream were 34% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Sara Gandini of Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy and colleagues conducted the meta-analysis and found the association.
  • Among postmenopausal women, those with highest levels of adiponectin were 20% less likely to develop breast cancer, compared with those with lowest levels of adiponectin.
  • Among premenopausal women, highest levels of adiponectin were linked to 30% reduction in the breast cancer risk.
  • The study concluded “Low circulating adiponectin levels are associated with an increased breast cancer risk.”
  • Adiponectin is a protein hormone that modulates a number of metabolic processes including glucose regulation and fatty acid oxidation.
  • The current study did not establish a causal relationship between adiponectin and risk of breast cancer.
  • The hormone in this case may simply be a biomarker, but does not play any role in the development of breast cancer.
  • But the possibility could not be excluded either. That is, it is possible that low adiponectin may plays a role in the development of breast cancer.
  • According to studies conducted in mice, adiponectin together with leptin when used as a therapeutic can completely reverse insulin resistance or cure type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes.
  • Adiponectin supplement is available over the internet and local health stores.
  • Other research suggests that eating a tomat0-rich diet can increase adiponectin levels.

For more information:  International Journal of Epidemiology, doi: 10.1093/ije/dyu088,  Circulating adiponectin and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis”

  • Earlier research seems to contradict this:  “The soy diet was linked to a reduction in participants’ adiponectin levels. Researchers originally theorized that a diet containing large amounts of soy could be part of the reason that Asian women have lower rates of breast cancer than women in the United States, but any beneficial effect may be limited to certain ethnic groups”

Keitt mango

7.  Mangoes may help prevent breast cancer

  • Recent studies by researchers at the Institute for Obesity Research and Program Evaluation at Texas A&M University in College Station have shown that mangoes also may help prevent breast cancer.
  • The mango used for the study, the Keitt variety of Mangifera indica, was provided by the National Mango Board, and polyphenolics were extracted from these.
  • Both non-cancer and cancer breast cells were treated with mango polyphenolics at different concentrations, and results were shown in Gallic acid equivalents per milliliter, or ug GAE/ml, of liquid sample.
  • The study showed that at 5 ug GAE/ml mango Keitt polyphenols decreased sample breast cancer cell proliferation by approximately 90 percent, and at the same concentration, decreased the proliferation of sample non-cancer cells by approximately 20 percent.
  • These results of the study indicate that the cell-killing effects of mango polyphenols are specific to cancer cells, where inflammation was reduced in both cancer and non-cancer cells, seemingly through the involvement of miRNA-21 ; short microRNA molecules associated with cancer
  • Research also showed mango polyphenols exerted anti-inflammatory activity and reduced the expression of miRNA-21, depending on the amount used.
  • A second study by this research group using hairless mice showed mango polyphenols also suppressed cell proliferation in the breast cancer BT474 cell line and tumor growth in mice with human breast carcinoma cells transplanted into them.

For more information:  AgriLife today, May 21, 2014,

8.  Premier Biomedical Advances New Cancer Treatment Methodology Protocol

  • Premier Biomedial’s anti-CTLA4-based cancer treatment is similar to Bristol-Myers Squibb’s YERVOY (“ipilimumab”), but has an additional immune system component that’s unique within the industry.
  • In April, researchers at the University of Texas El Paso (“UTEP”) presented positive results from its duplicated testing on mice at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in San Diego. The results showed statistically significant improvements in survival and prevention of breast cancer in mice treated with its anti-breast cancer treatment versus chemotherapy-only and non-treated groups.

9.  Cancer-causing worm ‘heals wounds’

  • Spit produced by a cancer-causing worm that eats away at your liver can super-charge damaged human cells so they heal quicker.
  • Queensland scientists say a growth hormone found in the Southeast Asian liver fluke’s spit could be used to treat chronic wounds that won’t heal.
  • “It would likely be used in a gel (which would be applied to the wound) and the protein would super-charge your insulin response,” James Cook University researcher Dr Michael Smout told AAP.
  • The newly discovered hormone in the fluke’s spit is thought to be responsible for the repair job, encouraging damaged cells to repair quicker.
  • Unfortunately the hormone can also encourage cells to multiply quickly and uncontrollably which can stimulate the growth of cancer cells.
  • Dr Smout says it appears the parasite releases the growth hormone to ensure the longevity of its food supply.
  • “This is good for the host in the short term but repeated wounding and healing over decades… can lead to this deadly form of cancer,” Dr Smout said.
  • The parasite, which can be treated with drugs, kills more than 20,000 people each year in Thailand alone.
  • Dr Smout and his colleagues are hopeful their research will lead to vaccines to prevent cancer in impoverished parts of Asia and to new treatments for non-healing wounds.



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