By Karen Oslund
I was warned! When I first started watching for every item in the news related to cancer, I was told that June would bring a deluge of cancer-related stories. This is because the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) holds its annual meeting in June and many new studies are released to coincide with this gathering. Sure enough, June has not disappointed. Some of these stories are hopeful, some helpful, and some fascinating.
First, a few weeks ago, the American Cancer Society announced its new recommendation to begin colon cancer screening at age 45, five years earlier than its prior recommendation of 50 for average risk adults. This addresses a disturbing trend: colorectal cancers are being seen more often in younger people. Scientists do not yet have an explanation for this increase. The good news is that earlier screening will prevent more colon cancers and find tumors early, when the chance for successful treatment is best. Noninvasive colon cancer screening methods, such as the FIT test, are an alternative to colonoscopy and appropriate for some people. Ask your healthcare provider whether it is time for colonoscopy or noninvasive colon cancer screening. Following through and actually getting the test done is key to prevention and early diagnosis.
Also in the news were two major stories about breast cancer. First, the results of a long-awaited study called TAILORx suggest that some women with early breast cancer do not benefit from chemotherapy. “Some” is the operative word in the previous sentence: there are many criteria and qualifiers. A genetic assay of the tumor itself results in a numerical score, which can help determine whether chemotherapy is of benefit in a particular case. A June 3 article by Denise Grady in the New York Times does a good job of summarizing the complex findings of this study. For about 60,000 women in the United States each year, it represents good news and suggests a direction that cancer treatment is going: precision. Specific determinations of which treatments are effective, or not, for individual patients will save some people from going through chemotherapy, and ensure that others, who will benefit from it will get appropriate care.
The second story related to breast cancer describes a Florida woman whose breast cancer, which had resisted other treatments, was cured with immunotherapy. Judy Perkins is cancer-free two years after taking part in a trial administration of modified T-cells, in which her own immune system was turned against her cancer. Her case is a single example but represents progress in understanding how the body’s own immune system can be used destroy cancer cells. This story was reported in Newsweek and the BBC, among other news outlets.
Finally, the National Cancer Institute has released findings in a new study, “Circulating vitamin D and colorectal cancer risk.” This study shows that people with higher levels of vitamin D have a lower incidence of colorectal cancers. The study is published online in the June 14 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute but summaries of the findings have been reported in several major news outlets. Vitamin D is also important to bone health. Next time you see your healthcare provider, ask how you can maximize the health benefits of this important vitamin.
June is indeed a busy month for cancer news and there are still other stories I have not highlighted here. I was warned!
The Cancer Resource Centers’ 2018 Cancer Awareness and Prevention series is sponsored by CRC in collaboration with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 with information, advocacy, and support services free of charge.