Thursday, June 22, 2017

Skirmishes in the war on cancer

Are we still calling it a war? Whatever, we're winning some battles.

Stop the spread. Researchers have discovered the biochemical mechanism that tells cancer cells to break off from the primary tumor and spread throughout the body, a process called metastasis. Some 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused when cancer metastasizes. The team also found that two existing, FDA-approved drugs can slow metastasis significantly.

Finding it earlier. A blood test that not only detects cancer but identifies where it is in the body has been developed by scientists. The breakthrough could allow doctors to diagnose specific cancers much earlier, even before signs such as a lump, begin to show. It is simple enough to be included in routine annual health checks alongside other tests such as for high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Will this drug work? Scientists have pinpointed a particular type of immune system cell that could predict more precisely if cancer patients are likely to respond to modern immunotherapy medicines. The discovery suggests doctors and drug developers will need to get smarter in zeroing in on those people who stand to benefit from the expensive new drugs, which are revolutionizing cancer care. Some drugs can boost the immune system's ability to fight tumors, but they only work for some patients.

Good news for men. Combining two existing prostate cancer therapies could extend the life of men with advanced, high-risk prostate cancer by 37%. The new findings could change how doctors first approach treatment of prostate cancer. “These are the most powerful results I’ve seen from a prostate cancer trial,” said Nicholas James, the lead author of the abstract presented as the American Society of Clinical Oncology. “It’s a once in a career feeling. This is one of the biggest reductions in death I’ve seen in any clinical trial for adult cancers.”

First do no harm. A new study reveals how three natural proteins can be modified to kill cancer cells while they are quickly dividing, all while leaving healthy cells alone. The mechanism involves three proteins that can be specifically modified so that they completely destroy cancer cells, causing them to self-destruct as they are dividing. What’s more, these proteins leave healthy cells alone during this process. Scientists tested the proteins on a number of incurable mice and human cancer types in cell cultures, and each time they succeeded in eradicating cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

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