Newsstand – June 2019
Skin cancer for a dollar or less
The sun is out, we are going on holidays and everyone is enjoying the sunshine. But before you consider jumping on that tanning bed to get a summer ready glow, take note of the latest news from researchers at the Colorado School for Public Health. They found that the tanning industry uses marketing strategies that specifically appeal to young people, including free tanning. Posing as customers, the scientists found that 35% of tanning facilities that are part of another facility, such as a gym membership or apartment complex, are free to use. Nearly all establishments that are tanning only premises offered price reductions, which could work out as low as $1 per tanning session.
And according to the researchers, the number of people regularly visiting tanning beds remains “unacceptably high”.
Research has shown that people who first use a tanning bed before the age of 35 increase their risk for melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer, by 75%. Science agrees that there is no safe amount of tanning, just as there is no safe amount of smoking.
Rates of melanoma in Western countries have increased over the recent decades, largely because we can travel to sunny destinations more often. But whether the tan comes from the salon or the beach, young people are especially at risk of developing cancer from tanning-related damage. Considering the high cancer risk that comes with tanning beds, this study highlights the importance of thinking about tanning as we do about smoking, and consider at least regulating its advertisement.
Yoghurt might reduce your cancer risk – if you’re a man
Eating two portions of yoghurt a day may reduce the risk of bowel cancer in men. That’s the news following analysis of data from two studies, the Health Professional Follow Up Study and the Nurses Health Study, which were used to understand diet and health of 32,606 men and 55,743 women.
The study found that men who ate two or more servings of yoghurt per week and thereby increased their intake of probiotics (or friendly bacteria), were 19% less likely to develop an adenoma (a benign growth or polyp in your large intestine) than those who ate none. More importantly, they were also 26% less likely to develop so-called “serrated” adenomas, which are highly susceptible to become cancerous over time. Interestingly the same benefit could not be found for women who ate yoghurts. While the study’s length and size make for reliable data, the scientists caution that more research is needed to make any definite claims, as many other factors could influence the results.
Bad gut feeling
We all have heard news about the importance of the gut microbiome (the bacteria living in our gut) and disturbances within the microbiome are involved in numerous diseases, including depression, multiple sclerosis and colorectal cancer. Now researchers have investigated a different, but hugely important, aspect of cancer biology: metastasis or spreading of the disease.
Breast cancer is still the most common type of cancer in the UK, and about two-thirds of cases are hormone receptor positive (HR+), meaning that they test positive for a certain protein on the cell surface. In a new study, mice with this type of breast cancer were treated with antibiotics to disrupt the gut microbiome. Dr Melanie Rutkowski, lead author of the study, told Forbes: "When we disrupted the microbiome equilibrium in mice by chronically treating them antibiotics, it resulted in inflammation systemically and within the mammary tissue. In this inflamed environment, tumour cells were much more able to disseminate from the tissue into the blood and to the lungs, which is a major site for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to metastasize.”
This research has important implications, as several chemotherapeutic agents can cause gastrointestinal symptoms that might disrupt the gut microbiome. The big question remaining, however, is whether the microbiome disruption is present before diagnosis or the result of cancer treatments. As is often the case, further studies are necessary before science can draw a definite conclusion.
Dogs can sniff out cancer
A dog’s sense of smell is better than a human’s. It’s about 10,000 times more sensitive, as dogs noses contain about 225 million olfactory receptors, compared to a measly 5 million in humans. Science is now trying to turn this exceptional sense of smell to something good and Professor Thomas Quinn from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, PA ran a small study in which he put three Beagles to work. He trained the dogs to sniff out non-small cell lung cancer in blood plasma samples from patients. The researchers presented the cancer patient’s blood, together with blood from healthy volunteers, to the dogs which were able to detect cancer with 97.5% specificity (correctly identify the samples without disease) and 96.7% sensitivity (accurately identify the samples with cancer). This approach is unlikely to result in dogs patrolling hospital floors sniffing out cancer but could lay the groundwork for new ways of detecting cancer. Establishing what exactly these wet noses are registering and how they are doing it might help us understand more about cancer and its early detection. While this possibility is still far off, other trials are planning to employ dogs on other samples, including breast cancer, to further validate the ability of dogs to sniff out all kinds of cancer.
Beware of the booze
Awareness of alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer is worryingly low, according to a study published in BMJ Open Journal that reported only 1 in 5 women attending breast clinics and screening appointments at Southampton Breast Services are aware that alcohol consumption can increase their risk of breast cancer.
The same was true for half of the staff questioned at Southampton Breast Services, but the researchers point out that this low level of awareness might not be the same in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, these numbers are surprisingly small and raising awareness of risk factors associated with breast cancer should be a priority. Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in the UK, with over 54,000 new cases diagnosed and 11,000 people dying each year. Importantly, researchers linked almost a quarter of all cases to lifestyle factors, with obesity and alcohol consumption coming out on top. Alcohol consumption alone is estimated to be responsible for 5 to 11% of all breast cancer cases and the risk increases with the amount consumed.
Worryingly, the study also found that only about half of the women questioned thought they knew how many units of alcohol are in wine and beer and only about two-thirds of them could accurately estimate how many units of alcohol these beverages contained. This unawareness is a problem, as 20% of women aged 45 to 64 drink more than the recommended maximum of 14 units per week. Any intervention to reduce the amount of alcohol is likely to have a significant knock-on effect on breast cancer rates and increasing awareness of the risk alcohol consumption poses for breast cancer could be the first step into this direction.