Alternative Medicine for Cancer Ups Death Risk

Researchers from the Yale Cancer Center (USA) found that reject conventional medicine (for a potentially curable cancer) in favor of alternative treatments have a 2.5-fold higher risk for death.

 

Complementary versus alternative: If a non-mainstream practice is used together with conventional medicine, it is considered “Complementary.” If a non-mainstream practice is used inlace of conventional medicine, it is considered “alternative.” Today, we are addressing the latter. In my practice, we often bring conventional and complementary approaches in a coordinated way, an approach known as integrative medicine.

The Study: Researchers examined records (2004-2013) in National Cancer Database (USA) to find 280 patients with early-stage cancer (breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal) whose treatment was coded as “other-unproven: cancer treatment administered by non-medical personnel.” They then matched the alternative medicine group to 560 patients with the same types of cancer who received conventional treatments.

The Findings: Alternative medicine use was associated with a nearly 6-fold increased risk of death among patients with breast cancer. For those with colorectal cancer, the risk increased by a factor of 4.5, and among patients with lung cancer, the risk of death doubled. The risk among prostate cancers did not differ between the conventional and alternative treatment groups. The last is not a surprise, given the long natural history of prostate cancer and the short median follow-up of this study.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

_________________________

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

And, one more thing: NEW free apps for Android and iOS (Apple): In apps, search My Breast Cancer by Michael Hunter.


Reference: This new study was published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Immunotherapy for Cancer

The latest approval of a cancer drug by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changes the paradigm of cancer treatment — the new indication specifies a genetic defect without any mention of tumor types. It allows the drug to be used in any cancer that harbors the specified genetic defect, wherever the tumor appears in the body.

What: Historically, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved cancer treatments based on where in the body the cancer started — for example, prostate or breast cancers. For the first time, the FDA approved a drug based on a tumor’s biomarker without regard to the tumor’s original location.

Details: The new approval is for the immunotherapy pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck & Co), which is already approved for use in several different tumor types, including melanoma and lung cancer. But this latest approval covers the use of pembrolizumab in tumors that have microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or are mismatch repair deficient (dMMR). These defects are found most commonly in colorectal, endometrial, and gastrointestinal cancers but also less commonly appear in cancers arising in the breast, prostate, bladder, thyroid gland, and other places, the agency notes.

Microsatellite instability & immunotherapy: It’s not just colorectal cancer: The results from that trial showed that patients with colorectal cancer with normal DNA repair (microsatellite stable) had zero response to pembrolizumab, whereas those with MSI and deficient DNA repair had a 50% response rate, she said. In addition, about 20% had stable disease. This is much higher than has been seen with immunotherapy in other tumor types, where fewer than 20% patients respond. But the trial also included patients with any solid tumor and MSI, and these patients also showed the 50% response rate and 20% stable disease results.

Downsides: Common side effects of pembrolizumab include fatigue, itchiness, diarrhea, decreased appetite, rash, fever, cough, dyspnea, musculoskeletal pain, constipation, and nausea. The drugs can also cause serious immune-mediated side effects, including lung, liver, kidney, or colon inflammation, endocrine problems.

Action point: All patients with advanced cancer who have had at least one standard therapy should be tested to see if their tumor harbors these genetic defects.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/880537

Should doctors prescribe exercise?

young woman running city park

“Although the data vary by different cancer types, there is a consistent trend suggesting that moderate daily exercise has a beneficial effect on preventing certain cancers. If you are a reasonably healthy adult, your should exercise regularly.” 

Let’s look at the relationship of exercise and selected cancers. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has done a nice job of summarizing:

Breast Cancer

While the amount of risk reduction varies among studies (20-80%), most suggest that 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise per day lowers breast cancer risk. Women who are physically active throughout their life appear to benefit the most, but those who increase physical activity after menopause also fare better than inactive women.1

Colon Cancer

Research suggests that people who increase their physical activity can lower the chance of developing colon cancer by 30 to 40% relative to sedentary adults.1,2 A decrease in colon cancer risk can be achieved regardless of body mass index (BMI) and people who are most active benefit the most. There is insufficient evidence of a protective effect of physical activity on the risk of rectal cancer (a protective effect was seen in some case-control studies, but not in cohort studies).3

Endometrial, Lung and Ovarian Cancer

A handful of studies have suggested that women who are physically active have a 20-40% reduced risk of endometrial cancer compared to those who don’t exercise.1 Higher levels of physical activity seem to also protect against lung cancer (up to 20% reduction in risk), particularly among men.1Although less consistent, research suggests that physical activity possibly reduces the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer.

What about Other Cancers?

While observational data on the benefits of exercise for prevention of the types of cancers listed above are fairly consistent, evidence of the effects of exercise on prevention of any other type of cancer either is either insufficient or inconsistent.2,4

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is one disease in which the data are not consistent, however prostate cancer is a heterogeneous disease and risk factor associations for total non-aggressive disease are different from aggressive / lethal disease. Most population based studies show similar findings, with little effect of exercise on overall incidence of prostate cancer but lower risk of aggressive prostate cancers for those with the highest levels of VIGOROUS activity (rather than any type of activity). In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study men 65 years or older who engaged in vigorous physical activity, such as running, jogging, biking, swimming or tennis at least three hours per week  had a 67% lower risk of advanced prostate cancer and 74% lower risk of fatal prostate cancer.5

Conflicting data for other malignancies

For example, one recent study found no association between physical activity and risk of developing gastric, rectal, pancreatic, bladder, testicular, kidney and hematological cancers.4 In contrast, a pooled analysis of data from prospective trials with 1.4 million participants found that physical activity was linked to lower risk of 13 cancers: esophageal, lung, kidney, gastric, endometrial, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, colon, head and neck, rectal, bladder, and breast.6Interestingly, leisure-time physical activity was associated with a higher risk of melanoma (presumably due to time spent outdoors) and prostate cancer, although it is not clear from these data whether that association was with nonaggressive or aggressive prostate cancer.

While we wait for confirmation and clarity on the role of exercise in preventing all the 200+ types of cancer – should doctors prescribe exercise? The answer is simple: yes, because evidence of the protective role of exercise is already strong for some of the most common cancers.

References

  1. Lee I, Oguma Y. Physical activity. In: Schottenfeld D, Fraumeni JF, editors. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  2. Slattery, ML. Physical activity and colorectal cancer. Sports Medicine 2004; 34(4): 239–252.
  3. Pham NM, et al. Physical activity and colorectal cancer risk: an evaluation based on a systematic review of epidemiologic evidence among the Japanese population. Jpn J Clin Oncol. 2012 Jan;42(1):2-13.
  4. Friedenreich CM, Neilson HK, Lynch BM. Eur J Cancer. State of the epidemiological evidence on physical activity and cancer prevention. 2010 Sep;46(14):2593-604.
  5. Giovannucci E, Liu Y, Leitzmann MF, et al. A prospective study of physical activity and incident and fatal prostate cancer. Arch Intern Med. 2005; 165(9):1005-1010.
  6. Moore SC, Lee IM, Weiderpass E, et al. Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Jun 1;176(6):816-25.
  7. http://www.asco.org/about-asco/press-center/asco-resources-media/cancer-perspectives/should-cancer-doctors-prescribe?et_cid=38723632&et_rid=463715101&linkid=Read+more

 

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. Of course, the disclaimer: Do not begin an exercise program without input from an appropriate medical professional. Many can simply start with a brisk walk for 30 minutes daily, 5 days per week. Have a wonderful day!

Colorectal Cancer Disparities in USA: “We Should Be Embarrassed”

What You Need to Know: Lack of education, regardless of race or ethnicity, is the most important factor linked to disparities in mortality rates from colorectal cancer in the United States.

Background: It has long been known that there are disparities in mortality rates from colorectal cancer (CRC) between educated white and uneducated black populations in the United States. The study, led by Ahmedin Jemal, PhD, from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, looked at the rate of death from CRC in people younger than 65 years (i.e., premature death) in each of the 50 states from 2008 to 2010. The researchers classified CRC patients 25 to 64 years of age by level of education (12 years or fewer, 13 to 15 years, and 16 years or more), race/ethnicity, and state.

Results:

They found there were significantly more premature CRC deaths in states with the lowest education levels than in those with higher levels. In fact, rates of premature death decreased with increased years of education, regardless of race or ethnicity.

  • In the white population, Delaware had the fewest premature CRC deaths, but even in that state, the rate was 15% higher in the least-educated than in the most-educated people (rate ratio [RR], 1.15; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.66 – 2.01). New Mexico had the most premature CRC deaths; the rate was 3-fold higher in the least-educated than in the most educated people (RR, 3.18; 95% CI, 2.01 – 5.05).
  • In the black population, rate ratios ranged from 0.84 (95% CI, 0.54 – 1.30) in Mississippi to 2.41 (95% CI, 1.62 – 3.59) in Virginia. New York had the lowest death rate (12.9%) among those with the lowest level of education.
  • Blaise Polite, MD, MPP of the University of Chicago expressed this view in an editorial: “The major finding from this study…remains unaltered: If you are black or have low educational attainment, where you live in the United States determines how likely you are to die as a result of colorectal cancer. That is an experiment that has to end in the 21st-century United States.”

My Take: We should be embarrassed. Between 2008 and 2010, more than 23,000 deaths from colon cancer, 50% of the total, could have been prevented if all states had colon cancer equal to the five states with the lowest rates for the most educated whites. An equally important point is the variation among the states; 69% of deaths could have been prevented in Mississippi, compared with only 29% in Utah. While lifestyle factors no doubt contribute to disparities, access to colonoscopy is a key component to reducing your chance of dying from colorectal cancer.

An author of the study adds: “Screening is recommended for people 50 to 75 years. In those with 12 years or less of education, only 40% get screened, compared with 70% of those with a college-level education,” he explained. Even worse, “in the uninsured population, it is only 19%. That is ridiculously low, and highlights the importance of access to care.”

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minuteable now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

References: 

 

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Getting Cancer?

Recent reports suggest that about 2 out of 3 cancers may be due to “bad luck.” Today, we focus on the other third: What can you do to reduce your risk of cancer?

What You Need to Know:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active had the greatest impact on overall risk of a cancer-related death. 
  • Restricting alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men was associated with 29% reduced risk for obesity-related cancers. Additionally, the risk was up to 71% lower for the most common site-specific cancers in the United States (breast, prostate, and colorectal).

Background

  • As people make their resolutions for 2015, two new studies — which show that curbing alcohol consumption, adding more plant foods to the diet, and losing excess weight can help reduce the risk of developing cancer — serve as a reminder that a healthy lifestyle is important.
  • In 1997, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) issued cancer prevention guidelines for weight management, diet, and physical activity. These were updated in 2007 and are considered to be the most comprehensive scientific analysis of cancer prevention and causation ever undertaken. Specifically, the guidelines reported that excess body fat is associated with an increased cancer risk and that there is convincing evidence that the consumption of alcohol, red meat, and processed meat elevates cancer risk. Since that time, numerous studies have reported links between colorectal cancer risk and alcohol, between breast cancer mortality and obesity, between breast cancer relapse and obesity, and between breast cancer risk and red meat.

The Evidence: The first study, published online January 6 in Cancer Causes & Control, showed that eating a plant-based diet and limiting alcohol intake, both already included in various cancer prevention guidelines, could help cut the risk for obesity-related cancers (about a third of all of cancers). In a cohort of nearly 3000 adults, the researchers found that restricting alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men was associated with 29% reduced risk for obesity-related cancers. Additionally, the risk was up to 71% lower for the most common site-specific cancers in the United States (breast, prostate, and colorectal). For individuals who consume starchy vegetables, such as corn, potatoes, and yams, sufficient consumption of nonstarchy legumes, fruits, and vegetables was associated with a reduction in the risk for colorectal cancer.

Pronounced Effect on Cancer Risk

In their study, Makarem and colleagues investigated whether the healthful behaviors outlined in the WCRF/AICR guidelines were associated with the risk for obesity-related cancers, in particular, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer. Of the 2983 adults enrolled in the Framingham Offspring cohort from 1991 to 2008, the researchers identified 480 incident obesity-related cancers.

Data from food frequency questionnaires, anthropometric measures, and self-reported physical activity were used to develop a 7-component score based on recommendations for body fatness; physical activity; foods that promote weight gain; plant foods; animal foods; alcohol; and food preservation, processing, and preparation. The cohort was, on average, middle aged to older and overweight, but had a relatively high level of physical activity. The mean duration of follow-up was 11.5 years.

The overall score was not associated with obesity-related cancer risk after adjustment for confounders such as age, sex, smoking, energy, and pre-existing conditions (hazard ratio [HR], 0.94; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.86 – 1.02). However, when the score components were considered separately, the researchers found that for every unit increment in the alcohol score (representing an improvement and more closely meeting the guideline recommendations), there was 29% lower risk for obesity-related cancers (HR, 0.71; 95 % CI, 0.51 – 0.99) and a 49% to 71% reduced risk for breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.

Similarly, each unit increment in the subcomponent score for nonstarchy plant foods (fruits, vegetables, and legumes) for those who eat starchy vegetables was associated with a 66% lower risk for colorectal cancer (HR, 0.44; 95% CI, 0.22 – 0.88).

Healthy Body Weight and Exercise Reduce Mortality

The second study, published online January 7 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported similar results. Researchers found that greater adherence to the cancer prevention guidelines of the American Cancer Society (ACS) was associated with a reduction not only in cancer incidence, but also in cancer mortality and total mortality.

The ACS guidelines recommend that individuals avoid smoking, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, and eat a healthy diet that emphasizes plant foods. In their study, Geoffrey Kabat, PhD, senior epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology & Population Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, and colleagues report that maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active had the greatest impact on overall mortality for both men and women.

The researchers used data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, a prospective cohort study of 566,401 adults who were 50 to 71 years of age in 1995 and 1996, when they enrolled in the study. They were followed for a median of 10.5 years for cancer incidence, 12.6 years for cancer mortality, and 13.6 years for total mortality.

During the study period, there were 73,784 cases of cancer, 16,193 cancer deaths, and 81,433 deaths from any cause. The patients were stratified by how closely they adhered to ACS guidelines, and adherence to the guidelines was associated with a reduced risk for all cancers combined. When the highest level of adherence was compared with the lowest level, the hazard ratio was 0.90 for men and 0.81 for women.

In addition, increased adherence was associated with a reduction in risk for 14 of 25 specific cancers. Reduction in the risk for gallbladder cancer was 65% in men and women combined, for endometrial cancer was 60%, for liver cancer was 48% in men, for colon cancer was 48% in men and 35% in women, and for rectal cancer was 40% in men and 36% in women.

My Take: These results add to the existing evidence on the potential role of limiting alcohol intake and increasing the intake of plant foods in influencing cancer risk. Dietary advice on cancer should focus on encouraging the consumption of a plant-based diet providing abundant non-starchy fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and restricting alcohol, if consumed at all, to the recommended levels. Try to stick to the ACS Guidelines, as the closer you follow them, the greater the benefit in cancer risk-reduction. Finally, exercise and don’t use tobacco. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

References: Cancer Causes Control. Published online January 6, 2015. Abstract; Am J Clin Nutr. Published online January 7, 2015. Abstract; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/837976#vp_2

Do Apples and Berry Fruits Reduce Colon Cancer Risk?

Background: Colon cancer arises due to the conversion of precancerous polyps (benign) found in the inner lining of the colon.

  • Prevention is better than cure, and this is very true with respect to colon cancer.
  • Various epidemiologic studies have linked colorectal cancer with food intake.
  • Apple and berry juices are widely consumed among various ethnicities because of their nutritious values.

My Take: This thorough literature review suggests that various phenolic phytochemicals present in these fruit juices have the potential to inhibit colon cancer cell lines. We need more research on the use of diet to reduce cancer risk. In the meantime, eat those fruits and vegetables! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: World Journal of Gastroenterology, 12/26/2014  Review Article

TV Watching and Colon Cancer Survival

What You Need to Know: Prolonged TV watching may lower colorectal cancer survival chances.

The Study: Researchers analyzed data that had been collected for an earlier study. The initial investigation had included 566,398 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71, all of whom had completed an initial health and lifestyle questionnaire at some point between 1995 and 1996. All were asked to indicate the degree to which they had routinely participated in moderate to vigorous “leisure-time activity” on a weekly basis over the past decade. In the new analysis, the researchers honed in on nearly 3,800 participants who went on to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. On average, the diagnoses had occurred approximately five years following completion of the initial survey.

  • Researchers determined that colorectal cancer patients who had seven or more hours of weekly leisure activity before their diagnosis showed a 20 percent lower risk of dying — for any reason — than those who had engaged in no leisure activity whatsoever. And after analyzing a follow-up survey, the team found that those who engaged in seven or more hours of weekly leisure activity post-diagnosis faced a 31 percent lower risk of dying from any cause, regardless of their activity levels before diagnosis.
  • In addition, patients who routinely watched no more than two hours of television per week before diagnosis faced a 22 percent lower risk of dying from any cause than those who watched five or more hours per week.

My Take: Minimize television watching to lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Even light exercise such as a vigorous walk 30 minutes daily may lower your risk of many types of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. Colorectal cancer survivors may lower their risk of death by exercising for at least 4 hours each week. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

Journal of Clinical Oncology, 08 Dec 2014