Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Report on Healthy Ways to Prevent Cancer

Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, a comprehensive report on a five-year study of the relationship between diet and exercise and cancer risk, is must reading.

A product of the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Foundation in the United Kingdom, it's an excellent overview of research, with recommendations for preventing cancer through lifestyle improvements.

Hormone-Negative Rates Drop; Benefits of Vitamin D

The American Association of Cancer Research met earlier this month in San Diego. Several studies dealt with hormone-negative breast cancer. I highlight a couple of them below.

Estrogen-negative cases drop slightly for most women
Cases of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer dropped slightly for white and Hispanic women between 2002 and 2004, but rose for African-Americans, according to researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Estrogen-negative disease disproportionately affects black women, with 40 percent of their tumors likely to be estrogen-negative compared to 20 percent for white or Hispanic women. And while blacks are less likely to get cancer in the first place, they are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced and more lethal forms, such as triple negative (ER-, PR- and HR2-).

Estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers also dipped, notably among women 50 to 69, with a 13% drop for whites, 11% for Hispanics, 4% for Asian or Pacific Islanders, but no change for African-Americans. This was tied to a reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy, which affects estrogen-positive cases because they are fueled by hormones.

The reduction in hormone-negative does not have the logical link to HRT and researchers did not explain the drop in those cases. They speculate that black women may have less access to regular mammograms, which accounts for their tumors being at an advanced stage at diagnosis.

Environmental and social factors may also influence cancer, with women in Nigeria having estrogen-receptor positive tumors 70 percent of the time—a 43 percent increase over African-Americans.

Vitamin D Slows Breast Cancer in Rats
A specific form of active vitamin D known as Gemini 0097 substantially reduced the development of both estrogen-negative and estrogen-positive breast cancer in rats. Researchers at Rutgers University injected rats with breast cancers then treated them with Gemini 0097. The vitamin D slowed the growth of ER-positive by 60 percent and ER-negative by 50 percent.

As with all studies in animals, more research needs to be done to determine the effects of Gemini 0097 on human cancers. One benefit so far is that Gemini 0097 is less toxic than other forms of synthetic vitamin D and does not lead to an overload of calcium, the most common side-effect.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cancer Survivors More Obese Than Most

Breast cancer survivors are among the least physically active cancer survivors, which turns out to be a pretty sedentary group. In a study published in the June 1 issue of Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, Canadian researchers discovered that cancer survivors, for the most part, have a surprisingly unhealthy lifestyle. Among the least active are colorectal, breast, and female melanoma survivors. The most active: male skin survivors

Twenty-one percent of the 114,000 Canadians who were interviewed for the study were physically active; 18 percent were obese. By comparison, 25 percent of Canadians are physically active and 15 percent are obese.

Breast cancer survivors were only about half as likely to be physically active as women who had not had cancer. This despite the fact that both diet and exercise are linked to a reduced risk of cancer and its recurrence.

Why do patients not adopt the healthy habits that can ? There are several possibilities.

• They don’t know about the research.
• Their treatment left them exhausted, depressed, or both, neither of which is conducive to starting a diet or exercise regimen.

If they don’t know that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are dangerous, why not? Are doctors not focusing on the whole patient, looking only at the cancer and not the rest of the body? That was the case with my docs—nary a one told me to eat well and exercise. Perhaps they knew I was already a health nut? Perhaps they didn’t know the research themselves? Perhaps they only have time to do so much? Whatever the case, it is a sad medical system that keeps doctors from sharing essential health information with their patients.

If the problem is with exhaustion or depression, that’s equally sad, as exercise and diet can help both.

If you know anybody who is recovering from cancer—breast or otherwise—encourage them to get out and walk, to eat their veggies and fruits and reduce their dietary fat. If they have trouble getting started, offer to go walk with them and make it a social event. Bring fresh fruit for a snack.

I was fortunate in that I had made major diet and exercise changes before I was diagnosed, so I just continued my existing plan. But it had been so difficult to get started and keep going— even while I was healthy. I wonder how hard it would have been for me to get going while I was sick.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Bucket List

I have never really thought about what I want to do before I die. I always apparently thought I would live forever and the future would unfold nicely without my intercession. So, now that I realize I like am indeed mortal, maybe it is time to do some planning. This summer, my husband and I went to Alaska, which would have been high on a list if I had one. Here’s what’s left:

• Climb the mountain by our Colorado cabin, the East Spanish Peak. I was training to do this when I got cancer, and got ever so slightly off track. So, no more excuses. I need to at least try this year.

• Go to Machu Picchu.  The first time I saw pictures of those amazing ruins decades ago, I imagined myself climbing among them.

• Paint more. I used to paint and draw and enjoyed it, but got caught up with other things. In the closet of my home office, I have three small canvasses and a batch of paints all ready to go. Ellen and her husband got me excellent brushes for my 60th birthday. I used them when I was going through treatment and created a truly awful painting. I would like to do one that is not awful.

• Go to Yellowstone. In September when the crowds narrow.

• Spend more time with the people who are important to me—my husband, kids, siblings, nieces and nephews and friends.

• Move someplace with better weather.

• Go to Cinque Terra.  

• Sail Croatia’s Dalmation Coast.  

• Beef up the solar on our cabin.

• Learn CPR.

• Remain in a chorus of some sort.

• Start a compost pile.

• Sew something on my new sewing machine.

That’s it for now. I want to be sort of reasonable.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Alcohol and HRT increase BC risk

It may not just be alcohol that increases the risk of breast cancer—it could be hormone replacement therapy HRT plus alcohol, according to research published in the International Journal of Cancer (March 2008). Women taking oral estrogen who had one or two alcoholic drinks a day increased their breast cancer risk by three times that of women who neither drank nor took HRT. Those who took HRT and had more than two drinks a day increased their risk to five times that of those who ingested neither HRT nor alcohol.

Researchers followed 5,000 Danish women for 20 years and surveyed them on their HRT and alcohol use. Over the two decades of the study, 267 developed breast cancer.

Alcohol and HRT both increase estrogen levels. Together, they are deadly. And, while estrogen does not fuel hormone-receptor-negative cancer, it can be a factor in the earliest formation of the disease.

And the fabulous news for folks like me who miss their martinis—drinking without HRT did not increase the breast cancer risk. I am not ready to hit the bottle in celebration, because this is just one study, but I am encouraged.

So the best approach is to limit both alcohol (fewer than four drinks a week) and the length of time you are on HRT. If you need HRT to improve your quality of life, try alternative forms—I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but here’s a reminder of what the National Cancer Institute recommends:
• regular exercise
• a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat
• limited alcohol
• no smoking
• flaxseed, whole grain cereal, and legumes

Vitamin D supplements and calcium can limit loss of bone mass.

Friday, April 4, 2008

How my life has changed!

Instead of helping students understand magazines and build their careers in journalism, I now am reading things titled, "Disaccharide structure code for the easy representation of constituent oligosaccharides from glycosaminoglycans."   In case you were wondering, this is an article on "shorthand nomenclature for designating the disaccharide subunit structure of all glycosaminoglycans."