Newsstand – May 2019
Our hand-picked monthly round-up of breaking cancer news.
How diabetes increases the risk of metastatic cancer
For a tumour to spread, or metastasize, cancer cells must migrate through the space around the cells, called the extracellular space, to reach the blood supply and on to organs around the body. A new study has now shed light on how diabetes is linked to an increased risk of metastasis in cancer. Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels, which can change the structure of collagen in a process called glycation. Collagen forms one component of the extracellular matrix and, during glycation, sugar molecules bind to collagen, making it stiffer.
Researchers at Cornell University in New York have now shown how glycation affects the ability of cancer cells to cross the extracellular matrix space. They used cells from breast tumours and planted them into environments with different degrees of glycation. It turned out that more glycation, and therefore stiffer collagen, made it easier for the cancer cells to spread, providing a possible explanation for the increased risk of metastasis in diabetic cancer patients.
The project, which was initiated by an undergraduate student, shows that exciting ideas can come from many places. Professor Mingming Wu, lead author of the study, told Cornell Unviersity: “It was really exciting to have an undergraduate initiate the project. Cancer and diabetes are two of the worst health problems in developed countries, and there’s a link between the two. For cancer, half of the story is still in genetics. It’s only recently we realized there is another half that we missed, which is the microenvironment.”
Surveillance as effective as surgery in early prostate cancer
Careful monitoring of early and localized prostate cancer is just as effective as surgery and radiotherapy, according to an updated assessment of the evidence. NICE, the UK body responsible for making recommendations to the NHS in England and Wales, declared that both options should be offered as equal treatment options. This announcement follows research showing that both treatment groups are equally likely to be alive 10 years after diagnosis. As long as the cancer is found at an early stage and hasn’t spread, monitoring can offer the opportunity to delay or avoid chemotherapy and radiotherapy, both of which can have severe side effects. The careful surveillance includes regular blood tests and scans to make sure the cancer isn’t growing or spreading.
Scorpion venom lights up brain cancer
A synthetic form of scorpion venom has been used to light up brain cancer cells. The new technique attaches a fluorescent molecule to the scorpion protein and uses a high-sensitivity near-infrared camera to visualize it. This method could be used during surgery to mark where the tumour ends and healthy brain tissue beings. Establishing clear borders could be especially useful for the most fatal form of brain cancer, gliomas. About 33% of all brain tumours are gliomas, but due to their tentacle-like sprawling nature the lines between cancer and brain blur, making it often impossible to remove the entire tumour. When used in the operating theatre, the new technique could enable the surgeon to switch between a normal microscope and a near-infrared one to decide where the tumour and healthy brain meet.
City pollution linked to cancer
Pollution is likely to cause a truck-load of health issues, including cancer. Based on a comprehensive review, the Guardian recently reported that pollution in cities is possibly damaging every organ of the body. Inhaling pollutants allows particles to settle deep in the lungs, from where they can enter the blood stream and affect virtually every cell in the body. There they can cause inflammation, ultimately leading to health problems, including diabetes, dementia and cancer. Lung, kidney and bladder cancer have all been connected to increased pollution levels. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now declared the levels of pollution routinely found in urban environments a “public health emergency”. The timely release of this report in connection with recent climate protests should be a wake-up call for all of us. People who might not care about the impact our habits have on the environment or future generations, surely will at least recognise that we need to change our ways, even if it’s just for the sake of their own health.
Sleep disturbance might be connected to cancer in women
A condition called obstructive sleep apnoea might be linked to an increased cancer risk in women, according to a new study. Sleep apnoea causes the walls of the throat to relax and narrow during sleep, which can lead to symptoms like snoring and repeatedly waking up to catch your breath in the middle of the night. The possible link to cancer has been suggested by a new study of 20,000 adults, which found that women with severe obstructive sleep apnoea were twice as likely to develop cancer. The overall cancer rate, however, was still very low. Common risk factors, such as diet and lack of exercise play a role in both conditions and make it difficult to dissect out any direct links between cancer and sleep apnoea. Overall sleep apnoea is unlikely to have a big effect on cancer, but if you think you might suffer from it, make sure to consult your GP.