Cancer in the news

I was cruising through my morning news update on research and clinical trials (yup, I’m a nerd). There were several tidbits about cancer with a more general interest. Thought I’d share and give my perspectives.

Coffee may protect against skin cancer

Another great finding from a near 20 year long set of studies: The Nurses’ Health Study, The Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.  More than 120000 medical professionals had their health tracked and correlated against a whole host of factors.  Another result from this study resulted in me giving up french fries for all of 2012 (only 6 more months, but who’s counting).

The outcome of this study identified a 21% and 10% reduction in rates of basal cell carcinoma for women and men respectively if they drink more than three cups of coffee a day.  Researchers are not sure which of the many compounds in coffee is responsible for the effect. Caffeine seems likely because it offers some protection against UV induced squamous cell carcinoma in mouse models.

Embryo screening and BRCA

BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are genes strongly associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.  They came up in a personal interest piece by MSNBC today.  It is possible to use IVF therapy and screen the resulting embryos for hereditary diseases.  BRCA mutations, with the range of cancers they can produce, are prime candidates for this sort of screening.

Ethical quandaries abound in any case of embryo selection.  Opponents will make the rather obvious Gattaca reference, but for the moment there is still a rather bright line between ensuring a child will not have cancer and selecting for a white male, 6’8″ with musical genius.

The major ethical issue for me is one of access to quality of life.  Healthcare is incredibly expensive.  Already we can see differences in life expectancies determined socioeconomic status.  Genetic screening and IVF can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This almost certainly limits access to the technology.

For more on BRCA 1 and 2, this wikipedia article is a good primer on their role in cancer.

For more on preimplantation genetic diagnosis, read this.

Using a urine test to detect KRAS mutations in pancreatic cancer

A potentially cool piece of new tech in the journey towards personalized medicine.  Mutation of the KRAS gene is associated with the development of many cancers.  Mutant KRAS is also associated with a more aggressive cancer phenotype. Identifying KRAS mutational status is important in matching a patient to the correct therapy.

Detection with a urine test as opposed to biopsy has the potential to be a faster and cheaper way to screen patients.  I hope to hear good things about this diagnostic in the years to come.

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