TAG: "Cancer"

Angelina Jolie and the oncogene

UC San Diego experts answer questions about breast cancer.

Sarah Blair, UC San Diego

It’s not surprising that Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she had preventive double mastectomy is big news. You can read about it here, here, here and here – among myriad places.

The fact remains, though, that Jolie’s dilemma and decision is far from novel. It’s one faced by many women, almost all without the glare or notice of media.

With that in mind, we reprise a pair of Q&As posed to breast cancer experts at UC San Diego: Teresa Helsten, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology-Oncology at Moores Cancer Center and Sarah Blair, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Moores Cancer Center.

Read Q&A

Related link:
UC Santa Barbara scholar Laury Oaks addresses issue of whether prophylactic mastectomy is a universal key to breast cancer prevention



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Survivor Beach to ‘SUP-port’ quest to conquer cancer June 2

Seventh annual event will feature new stand-up paddleboard (SUP) competition.

UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center will host the 7th annual Survivor Beach on Sunday, June 2. The event, which has become a La Jolla tradition, will feature a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) competition, beach festival with food trucks and more. Hundreds of community members will gather for the morning event in solidarity in the fight against cancer.

Last year, more than 300 people attended Survivor Beach, which honors those who have fought cancer, as well as the family, friends and caregivers of those with cancer. New to the event this year will be open and elite stand-up paddleboard races, as well as SUP clinics. Survivor Beach also will feature a brief program with comments from a cancer survivor sharing his inspirational story. The following beach festival will include a dance performance by Heali’i’s Polynesian Revue and a live DJ. Participants can also line their surfboards along the sea wall on the beach in front of Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a visual display of their support in the quest to conquer cancer.

For the sixth year in a row, Survivor Beach is sponsored by biotechnology company Genentech, which discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions, including cancer.

“Set along the gorgeous coastline of La Jolla, Survivor Beach demonstrates the power and strength that results from coming together to fight cancer,” said Alex Panici, chair of the 7th annual Survivor Beach. “This year, Survivor Beach offers added fun with stand-up paddleboard events for everyone from the most elite to the newest paddlers.”

The event precedes the annual Luau and Longboard Invitational in August, which will raise funds for research, patient care, and outreach and educational programs at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, the region’s only National Cancer Institute-Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Free hepatitis B screenings offered on May 19

UC Davis event targets Asian-American adults.

A UC Davis medical student prepares to draw blood for hepatitis screening test.

Asian Americans and adult children of foreign-born Asian Americans are invited to a free hepatitis B screening event Sunday (May 19) at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is being held in recognition of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and National Hepatitis Testing Day. It is funded with a federal grant aimed at boosting hepatitis B screening and preventing liver cancer in the Asian-American community.

“Our goal is to screen 1,000 foreign-born or children of foreign-born Asian Americans who are 18 years of age or older, and who are from areas where hepatitis B is endemic,” said Julie Dang, a community health program supervisor at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and study program manager.

One of every 10 Asian Pacific Islanders has hepatitis, and most do not know they have been infected because often there are no symptoms. Untreated, hepatitis B virus can lead to liver cancer. Nearly 80 percent of liver cancer cases in Asian Americans can be directly traced to the Hepatitis B virus infection.

Screening participants who test negative and need vaccination will be put on a waiting list and contacted when vaccines become available.  All participants will receive a phone call and a result letter regarding their status.

“Individuals who test positive will receive individual counseling sessions to help them understand their status and get referrals for  care,” said Dang.

Additional event offerings will include risk-factor screenings (hepatitis C, diabetes and blood pressure), health education and light refreshments. All participants will receive a $10 Walmart gift card for their contribution to the study.

The event is co-sponsored by the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training (AANCART), a national organization that is headquartered at the cancer center

The UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is at 4501 X St. in Sacramento. To RSVP for the event, please contact Tina Fung at (916) 734-5371, or email her at tina.fung@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.

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Tumor-activated protein promotes cancer

Cancers physically alter cells in the lymphatic system to promote the spread of disease.

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center report that cancers physically alter cells in the lymphatic system – a network of vessels that transports and stores immune cells throughout the body – to promote the spread of disease, a process called metastasis.

The findings are published in this week’s online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Roughly 90 percent of all cancer deaths are due to metastasis – the disease spreading from the original tumor site to multiple, distant tissues and finally overwhelming the patient’s body. Lymph vessels are often the path of transmission, with circulating tumor cells lodging in the lymph nodes – organs distributed throughout the body that act as immune system garrisons and traps for pathogens and foreign particles.

The researchers, led by principal investigator Judith A. Varner, Ph.D., professor of medicine at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, found that a protein growth factor expressed by tumors called VEGF-C activates a receptor called integrin α4β1 on lymphatic vessels in lymph node tissues, making them more attractive and sticky to metastatic tumor cells.

“One of the most significant features of this work is that it highlights the way that tumors can have long-range effects on other parts of the body, which can then impact tumor metastasis or growth,” said Varner.

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New prostate cancer test improves risk assessment

Tool tested by UCSF helps ID those best suited for active surveillance.

A new genomic test for prostate cancer can help predict whether men are more likely to harbor an aggressive form of the disease, according to a new UC San Francisco study.

The test, which improves risk assessment when patients are first diagnosed, can also aid in determining which men are suitable for active surveillance – a way of managing the disease without direct treatment.

Prostate cancer often grows slowly, and many of the quarter-million patients diagnosed annually in the United States never need treatment, which typically involves surgery, radiation or both. Still, most patients with low-risk prostate cancer in this country immediately undergo treatment.

The researchers found the new test provides “statistically significant and clinically meaningful” prognostic information, and can help identify many more low-risk men who could safely choose surveillance, sparing them from unnecessary treatment and avoidable adverse side effects. At the same time, the test can pinpoint men at apparent low-risk who in fact may have potentially aggressive tumors, the authors said.

The independent UCSF clinical study of 395 men validated the Oncotype DX Genomic Prostate Score (GPS), a biopsy-based pretreatment tool of Genomic Health Inc. as a predictor of high grade or extracapsular prostate cancer.

Results will be presented today during the American Urological Association’s annual meeting in San Diego.

“With the new test, we can more confidently recommend active surveillance when it is appropriate,’’ said the study’s lead author Matthew R. Cooperberg, M.D., M.P.H., a UCSF assistant professor of urology and epidemiology & biostatistics. “And patients through active surveillance can avoid or delay surgery or radiation for their condition.”

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Possible trigger for spread of cancer cells discovered

UCLA research sheds light on growth of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.

Cun-Yu Wang, UCLA

Cun-Yu Wang, UCLA

Very little has been known about the epigenetic events — developmental and environmental factors affecting genes — that occur prior to the invasive growth of head and neck squamous cell carcinomas and their spread to other parts of the body, or metastasis.

However, researchers from the UCLA School of Dentistry discovered what could be a crucial step toward understanding the process that activates the cancer cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is known for being one of the most deadly and debilitating types of tumors.

Led by Dr. Cun-Yu Wang, a UCLA School of Dentistry professor and leading cancer scientist, the group identified the key epigenetic factor KDM4A, which modifies the molecular activation process of protein AP-1. AP-1 is known to regulate gene expression and promote metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma. Their findings show that squamous cell carcinoma’s invasive growth could potentially be repressed by targeting KDM4A.

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New prostate cancer guidelines announced

UC Davis oncology chief led development effort.

Richard Valicenti, UC Davis

Richard Valicenti, UC Davis

Based on a major effort co-led by UC Davis prostate cancer expert Richard Valicenti, the nation’s leading urological and radiation oncology organizations today announced a new guideline for radiation therapy after prostatectomy.

The guideline, released jointly by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and the American Urological Association (AUA), for the first time provides evidence- and consensus-based recommendations about the benefits and risks of additional cancer treatment after prostate-removal surgery.

Valicenti, chair of the UC Davis Department of Radiation Oncology, championed the comprehensive review on behalf of ASTRO. Ian Thompson, director of the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, led the work on behalf of the AUA. The guideline was based on their analysis of 324 research articles published between 1990 and 2012.

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Cancer program receives national award for quality care

UC San Diego honored by American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer.

UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center

UC San Diego Health System is a recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer. Seventy-nine cancer care programs—three in California—received this national award based on excellence in providing quality care to cancer patients.

“These 79 cancer programs, surveyed in 2012, currently represent the best of the best—so to speak—when it comes to cancer care,” said Daniel P. McKellar, M.D., F.A.C.S., chair of the Commission on Cancer. “Each of these facilities is not just meeting nationally recognized standards for the delivery of quality cancer care, they are exceeding them.”

Established in 2004, the honor was awarded to only 19 percent of the cancer care programs surveyed in 2012. The award is designed to recognize quality cancer care and to help patients make an informed decision on where to seek superior treatment.

UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center is recognized as an innovative leader in cancer treatment and research. Home to 413 physicians and scientists, it employs a multidisciplinary team approach to patient care that includes surgical oncology, medical oncology, gynecologic oncology, radiation oncology, pathology, diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology, palliative care, integrative medicine, psychology and nutrition.

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Surgery for nonfatal skin cancers might not be best for all elderly patients

Study urges doctors to consider patient risks, benefits when treating low-risk skin cancers.

Eleni Linos, UC San Francisco

Surgery is often recommended for skin cancers, but older, sicker patients can endure complications as a result and may not live long enough to benefit from the treatment.

A new study led by UC San Francisco focused on the vexing problem of how best to handle non-melanoma skin cancers – which are very common — among frail, elderly patients. In the study sample, the researchers found that most non-melanoma skin cancers were typically treated surgically, regardless of the patient’s life expectancy or whether the tumor was likely to recur or harm the patient.

One in five patients in the study reported a complication from the skin cancer treatment, and approximately half the patients with limited life expectancy died of other causes within five years.

As a result, the authors say, doctors should take into consideration the benefits, risk and preference of a patient when determining appropriate treatment for nonfatal skin cancers.

The study will be published online today (April 29) in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“It can be very challenging to decide whether and how to treat patients with non-melanoma skin cancer who have limited life expectancy, especially when the tumors are asymptomatic,” said Eleni Linos, M.D., Dr.P.H., an assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF and lead author of the study.

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Home-based health visits increase hepatitis screening rates for Hmong Americans

First-of-kind study finds effectiveness of health care worker visits.

Twenty-four percent of Hmong study subjects who learned about hepatitis B and liver cancer were later screened.

In the first study of its kind, lay health workers increased screening rates for hepatitis B virus (HBV) and knowledge about the disease among a group of Asian Americans, known as the Hmong, UC Davis researchers have found. The study appears online today (April 23) in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Hmong Americans, who originate from the mountainous areas of Laos, are at elevated risk for chronic hepatitis B — the major risk factor for liver cancer. They’re also at greater risk than either white or other Asian Americans for poor outcomes from liver cancer.

Although Hmong Americans often have health insurance, cultural and language barriers can prevent access to adequate screening for hepatitis B and liver cancer,  according to study author Moon Chen Jr., professor and associate director for cancer control at UC Davis, who led the research effort.

“Compared to other Asian Americans, liver cancer tends to be found at a later stage among the Hmong, and the survival rate is very low. While the overall survival rate for liver cancer is 10 percent, Hmong people who are diagnosed with the disease usually live for less than a year, and often for as little as a month or two,” said Chen.

“We wanted to decrease the probability of earlier death from liver cancer among the Hmong and increase the probability of earlier detection,” said Chen, who is also principal investigator for the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness Research and Training (AANCART), the National Cancer Institute’s National Center for Reducing Asian American Cancer Health Disparities.

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New method to separate useful stem cells from ‘problem’ ones for therapies

UCLA study IDs small molecule that destroys potentially dangerous cells.

Michael Teitell, UCLA

Pluripotent stem cells can turn, or differentiate, into any cell type in the body, such as nerve, muscle or bone, but inevitably some of these stem cells fail to differentiate and end up mixed in with their newly differentiated daughter cells.

Because these remaining pluripotent stem cells can subsequently develop into unintended cell types — bone cells among blood, for instance — or form tumors known as teratomas, identifying and separating them from their differentiated progeny is of utmost importance in keeping stem cell–based therapeutics safe.

Now, UCLA scientists have discovered a new agent that may be useful in strategies to remove these cells. Their research was published online April 15 in the journal Developmental Cell and will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal.

The study was led by Carla Koehler, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA, and Dr. Michael Teitell, a UCLA professor of pathology and pediatrics. Both are members of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Research suggests ‘chemo brain’ may involve neurophysiological change

UCLA study finds scientific basis for cognitive complaints of breast cancer patients.

Patricia Ganz, UCLA

For many years, breast cancer patients have reported experiencing difficulties with memory, concentration and other cognitive functions following cancer treatment. Whether this mental “fogginess” is psychosomatic or reflects underlying changes in brain function has been a bone of contention among scientists and physicians.

Now, a new study led by Dr. Patricia Ganz, director of cancer prevention and control research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, demonstrates a significant correlation between poorer performance on neuropsychological tests and memory complaints in post-treatment, early-stage breast cancer patients — particularly those who have undergone combined chemotherapy and radiation.

“The study is one of the first to show that such patient-reported cognitive difficulties — often referred to as ‘chemo brain’ in those who have had chemotherapy — can be associated with neuropsychological test performance,” said Ganz, who is also a professor of health policy and management at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The study was published today (April 18) in the online edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal.

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