Suicide gene therapy kills prostate cancer cells

A new gene therapy technique is able to modify prostate cancer cells so that a patient’s body attacks and kills them, US scientists have discovered.

A new gene therapy technique is able to modify prostate cancer cells so that a patient's body attacks and kills them, US scientists have discovered.

The technique causes the tumour cells in the body to self destruct, giving it the name ‘suicide gene therapy’.

Their research found a 20% improvement in survival in patients with prostate cancer five years after treatment.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK with more than 41,000 diagnosed each year.

The study, led by researchers from Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, appears to show that this ‘suicide gene therapy’, when combined with radiotherapy, could be a promising treatment for prostate cancer in the future.

The technique involves the cancer cells being genetically modified so that they signal a patient’s immune system to attack them.

Usually, the body does not recognise cancer cells as the enemy because they have evolved from normal healthy cells. Unlike an infection, which the body reacts against, the immune system does not react to kill off the offending cancer cells.

Using a virus to carry the gene therapy into the tumour cells, the result is that the cells self destruct, alerting the patient’s immune system that it is time to launch a massive attack.

In two groups of 62 patients, one group received the gene therapy twice and the other group – who all had more aggressive prostate cancer – received the treatment three times. Both groups also received radiotherapy.

Survival rates after five years were 97% and 94%. Although there was no control group in this study, the researchers said the results showed a five to 20% improvement on previous studies of prostate cancer treatment.

And cancer biopsy tests performed two years after the trial were found to be negative in 83% and 79% of the patients in the two groups.

Dr Brian Butler, from Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, said it could change the way that cancer is treated. “We may be able to inject the agent straight into the tumour and let the body kill the cancer cells. Once the immune system has knowledge of the bad tumour cells, if they pop up again, the body will know to kill them.”

Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said the results were “very interesting” but more research was needed. We would need a randomised trial to tell if this treatment is better than radiotherapy alone.”

“The viruses used in this study cannot reproduce. Next generation viral therapies for cancer can selectively replicate in cancer cells, something that can kill the cancer cell directly, and also help spread the virus to neighbouring cancer cells.”

“It would be interesting to see this approach used with viruses that could reproduce to see if it makes for a more effective treatment.”

Healthier lifestyles could cut cancer cases by a third

About a third of cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people ate healthily, exercised more and cut down on alcohol according to new research.

About a third of cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people ate healthily, exercised more and cut down on alcohol according to new research
Exercise is an important way of keeping fit and cutting body fat, which is linked to the risk of developing cancer.

Data from the World Cancer Research Fund suggests that 20,000 cases of breast cancer and about 19,000 cases of bowel cancer could be stopped each year with small changes in lifestyle.

In 2013, there were more than 351,000 new cases of cancer in the UK. The WCRF said 84,000 could have been prevented.

Head of research Dr Rachel Thompson said simple changes to diet and lifestyle could make “a huge difference” in the battle against cancer.

“Even minor adjustments, like 10 to 15 extra minutes of physical activity each day, cutting down on alcohol, or limiting your intake of high calorie foods and sugary drinks, will help decrease your cancer risk,” she said.

She said that after cutting out smoking, being a healthy body weight was the most important thing people could do to cut their risk of getting cancer.

“There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 10 cancers,” she said.

The link between a healthy lifestyle and the risk of developing cancer is well known, and this new data looks at preventable cases in 13 of the UK’s most common cancers.

For example, among men, 9% of cases of advanced prostate cancer could be prevented every year if men were not overweight or obese.

Lung cancer cases could be cut by 15,000 (33%) by getting people to stop smoking.

And 38% of breast cancer cases could be prevented, particularly in postmenopausal women, by increasing physical exercise and reducing body fat.

The WCRF also said that 2,200 cases of kidney cancer and 1,400 cases of pancreatic cancer could be prevented if people adopted a healthier lifestyle.

Prof Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said the UK was currently behind on cancer survival rates compared with other European countries.

He said one major factor was that cancer prevention was not in the public consciousness.

“The link between tobacco and cancer is widely known and readily accepted by the public, but many are not yet fully convinced that healthy eating, regular exercise and not drinking alcohol, can lower your cancer risk.”

From: https://www.fithealthylives.com/2016/06/healthier-lifestyles-could-cut-cancer-cases-by-a-third-2/

Good News on World Cancer Day

The cancer death rate for men fell by 12% and for women 8% between 2003 and 2013.

The cancer death rate for men fell by 12% and for women 8% between 2003 and 2013

In 2013, 284 out of every 100,000 people died from cancer. In 2003, it was 312. Improvements in diagnosis and treatment are thought to be the reason.

The death rate for men fell 12% and for women by 8%, narrowing the gender gap.

But the actual number of cancer deaths rose – from 155,000 in 2003 to 162,000 in 2013 – as more people live longer and develop the disease in old age.

“The population is growing, and more of us are living longer,” Cancer Research UK chief executive Sir Harpal Kumar said.

Almost half of all the cancer deaths in 2013 were from lung, bowel, breast or prostate cancer.

Although the combined death rate for these four cancers had dropped by about 11% over the past 10 years, some other cancers, such as liver and pancreatic, had increased death rates.

Sir Harpal said: “Too many people are still being diagnosed with and dying from cancer, not just here in the UK but around the world.”

He said CRUK was focusing research on how to achieve earlier diagnosis and manage hard-to-treat cancers.

“Our scientists are developing new tests, surgical and radiotherapy techniques, and drugs,” he said.

“It’s important to celebrate how much things have improved, but also to renew our commitment to saving the lives of more cancer patients.”

Cancer Research UK compiled the cancer death rate data, which was taken from cancer registries in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Health Direct cheers the great news that half of cancer sufferers now survive the diagnosis.

Target of four week cancer diagnosis plan

More details of plans to improve cancer care in England have been revealed.

Target of four week cancer diagnosis plan They include a target that 95% of people should be given a diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days of being referred by a GP, by 2020. Implementing it will cost £300 million a year until then.

The target – recommended by the Independent Cancer Taskforce – will be trialled in five hospitals before being rolled out nationwide if successful.

Faster cancer diagnosis could save 11,000 lives a year, the taskforce said.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK lagged behind other western European countries in cancer survival rates and the new measures would help “close the gap”.

“We know that the biggest single factor that means that our cancer survival rates lag those of France, Germany and other European countries is the fact that we have too much late diagnosis; we don’t get an answer to people quickly enough,” he said.

Mr Hunt said he was making “a very simple promise to all NHS patients” that by 2020 they would have a cancer diagnosis or an all-clear within 28 days.

However, the Department of Health later clarified that while it hoped to achieve the Independent Cancer Taskforce target of 95% by 2020, it would only be clear once trials were completed whether that was achievable.

Speeding up diagnosis would require more cancer consultants, specialist nurses, staff trained in endoscopies and diagnostic tests, Mr Hunt added.

Currently 280,000 people in England are diagnosed with cancer each year – with half surviving for at least 10 years.

Patients are meant to see a specialist within two weeks of a GP referral under existing targets but may then face a long wait for test results, meaning a growing number of patients do not get their treatment started within the recommended 62 days.

Cancer patients will also get online access to their test results if they choose, under the new measures.

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK and chairman of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said services for diagnosing cancer were under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff were so important.

“Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to begin treatment sooner,” he said.

The announcement comes after a cross-party group of MPs warned that cancer services had “lost momentum” in the past two years.

The health service has been struggling to meet waiting times and seen resources reduced, the Public Accounts Committee warned.

Female lung cancer cases top 20,000

Cases of lung cancer in women have reached 20,000 a year in the UK for the first time since records began.

Female lung cancer cases top 20,000The figure for 2012 represents a rise from 14,000 in 1993, according to the data compiled by Cancer Research UK.

It means the rate of lung cancer in the female population has risen by 22% to 65 cases per 100,000 people.

The trend is the opposite of what is happening with men and is linked to smoking-  which peaked in men in the 1940s but in women peaked in the 1970s.

About 24,000 men are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, which means it is the second most common cancer for both sexes.

Prof Caroline Dive, from Cancer Research UK, said: “It really is devastating to see that the number of women diagnosed with lung cancer continues to climb.”

“We also know survival remains poor and one of the problems is that lung cancer tends to be diagnosed at a late stage when it has already spread.”

That makes it hard to treat and as a result lung cancer claims the lives of 35,000 people each year.

Just 10% of people live for five years after diagnosis – compared with more than 80% for breast and prostate cancer.

Prof Dive said efforts were being made to tackle this with lung cancer one of its key priorities of its research strategy.

The work focuses on a new technique to carry out a biopsy using magnets to capture rogue cancer cells in the blood of patients – potentially providing vital information on the biology of the disease, which could help improve treatment.

But as well as investing in new treatment techniques, Nell Barrie, senior science communication manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s vital that we keep on fighting against lung cancer.”

“It’s the biggest cancer killer in the UK so the government and health service must work to help smokers quit by providing more stop smoking services to help people give up this deadly addiction.”

Health Direct laments the sad increase in female lung cancers as these deaths are wholly preventable.

New cancer strategy could save thousands of lives

About 5,000 lives could be saved each year in England if GPs follow new guidelines on cancer diagnosis.

About 5,000 lives could be saved each year in England if GPs follow new guidelines on cancer diagnosis.The health watchdog NICE say that a new approach is necessary to tackle England’s lagging cancer survival rates.

The guidelines suggest all GPs order certain tests directly, side-stepping referrals to specialists first, to speed up access to treatment.

Charities say they support the changes but warn that more funds are needed.

Doctors have long agreed that the sooner most cancers are diagnosed, the greater the chance of survival.

But according to experts from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), although the situation is improving, thousands of lives are lost each year because tumours are being diagnosed too late.

The new guidelines make wide-ranging changes to previous recommendations, to encourage GPs to think of cancer sooner and lower the threshold at which people are given cancer tests.

For the first time the guidance focuses on key symptoms, rather than encouraging GPs to consider first which cancer a patient may have and then to cross check it with the symptoms.

The recommendations also say all GPs across England should be able to order some cancer tests directly, without waiting for an appointment with a specialist.

For example in certain cases, GPs will now be able to access CT scans and internal examinations such as endoscopies, without a specialist referral.

NICE hopes this will allow patients to get investigations more quickly and take the pressure off specialists’ time.

The committee has produced information to help patients spot the most common signs of cancer so they can seek medical advice quickly.

And the guidance encourages doctors to put “safety nets” in place to ensure difficult cases are not missed.

Patients whose symptoms are worrying but do not currently suggest cancer, for example, should be given follow-up appointments or advice on when to come back.

The Royal College of GPs welcomed the guidance but warned that there might not be enough capacity to do the extra scans and checks, which could cause a backlog and longer wait times for patients.

“It would be regrettable if something that was so well-intentioned resulted in patients being worse off,” said Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP.

Sara Hiom, from Cancer Research UK, said: “We know the strain the NHS is already under and the number of people diagnosed with cancer is increasing – further investment is essential in order to support this much needed shift in investigative testing. “

She added: “Research would indicate we do fewer diagnostic tests in this country than comparable countries, but there are a lack of workforce, perhaps a lack of kit, to do those tests, so patients may be missing out because there are delays, backlogs or bottlenecks and this really does need to be addressed.”

Health Direct agrees with Cancer Research that not enough diagnostic proceedures are taking place- but we warn that the resources to fund and undertake these extra processes are not in place.

Prostate cancer gene targeted by drugs

Scientists have published a comprehensive genetic map of advanced prostate cancer.

Scientists have published a comprehensive genetic map of advanced prostate cancer- which suggests nearly nine in 10 patients with advanced prostate cancer could benefit from targeted treatments
The study, published in the journal Cell, shows that nearly nine in 10 men had gene mutations that could be targeted with drugs.

The study was led in the UK by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) London in collaboration with several teams in the United States.

Researchers analysed the genetic codes of tumours from 150 patients with metastatic – or advanced – prostate cancer, whose disease had spread to other parts of the body.

They found that 89% had genetic aberrations for which there were existing drugs or treatments undergoing clinical trials.

Prof Johann de Bono, of the ICR and Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust “This is truly a gamechanger. We are calling this prostate cancer’s Rosetta Stone, because we can now decode the disease for the first time.”

“In the past, we used to treat lethal prostate cancer as a single illness but this shows that it is a group of diseases, each driven by their own set of mutations.”

Prof de Bono said it meant that, using genetic testing, it would be possible to individualise patient care, heralding the arrival of personalised treatment for advanced prostate cancer.

More than 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and nearly 11,000 die in the UK each year.

Nearly all men with advanced disease develop resistance to hormone therapy, which is used to prevent prostate cancer cells from growing.

In the study, nearly two thirds of the patients had mutations in a molecule that interacts with the male hormone androgen, which is targeted in current treatments.

Scientists at the ICR believe this could open up new avenues for hormone therapy.

Mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were found in nearly one in five patients.

Trials at the Royal Marsden/ICR have already shown prostate cancer patients with BRCA mutations can benefit from drugs called Parp inhibitors which disrupt cancer cells’ DNA repair mechanism.

One of these drugs, called olaparib, is now licensed by the EU to treat women with ovarian cancer, who carry BRCA mutations.

The research is part of a move towards treating cancer – not just by its site of origin – such as breast, lung or prostate – but with medicines which target the individual genetic mutations driving the disease which can be common across several cancers.

Prof Paul Workman, ICR chief executive said: “This major new study opens up the black box of metastatic cancer, and has found inside a wealth of genetic information that I believe will change the way we think about and treat advanced disease.”

Skin cancer linked to package holiday boom

A boom in cheap package holidays in the 1960s is partly behind the “worrying rise” in skin cancers in pensioners, Cancer Research UK suggests.

Skin cancer linked to package holiday boomThe charity says that although all ages are at risk, many older people would not have been aware of how to protect themselves four decades ago.

Figures show that 5,700 over 65s are diagnosed with the condition each year, compared to just 600 in the mid-1970s.

The condition can often be prevented by covering up and avoiding sunburn.

Around 13,300 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – each year in the UK. And 2,100 lives are lost to the disease annually.

Numbers are increasing across all age groups but the steepest rise is seen in over-65s.

The charity said all ages are benefitting from public health messages explaining the dangers of holiday sun.

Professor Richard Marais of Cancer Research UK (CRUK), said: “It is worrying to see melanoma rates increasing at such a fast pace, and across all age groups.”

“It is important people keep an eye on their skin and seek medical opinion if they see any changes to their moles or even to normal areas of skin.”

Research suggests that getting sunburnt just once every two years can increase the odds of developing malignant melanoma.

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at CRUK, said: “You can burn at home just as easily as you can on holiday, so remember to spend time in the shade, wear a T-shirt and a hat to protect your skin and regularly apply sunscreen that is at least factor 15 and has four stars.”

Johnathon Major, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “The increasing incidence of skin cancer within the UK is alarming.

“As people are living longer, more people are reaching an age where they are at a higher risk. Interest in package holidays and in fashion tanning are among the reasons that more people are developing skin cancer.”

“But it’s crucial to remember that you don’t have to go on holiday or use a sun bed to heighten your risk. Skin cancers can develop as a result of both short term and long term overexposure to the sun’s rays within the UK.”

Smoking kills two thirds of smokers

The risk of death from smoking may be much higher than previously thought – tobacco kills up to two in every three smokers not one in every two according to new research.

Smoking kills two thirds of smokersThe study tracked more than 200,000 Australian smokers and non smokers above the age of 45 over six years.

Mortality risk went up with cigarette use, the BMC Medicine reported.

Smoking 10 cigarettes a day doubled the risk, while 20 a day smokers were four to five times more likely to die.

Although someone who smokes could lead a long life, their habit makes this less likely.

Smoking increases the risk of a multitude of health problems- including heart disease and cancer.

Cancer Research UK currently advises that half of all long term smokers eventually die from cancer or other smoking related illnesses- but recent evidence suggests the figure may even be higher.

Newer studies in UK women, British doctors and American Cancer Society volunteers have put the figure at up to 67%, says Prof Emily Banks, lead author of the Australian study.

“We knew smoking was bad, but we now have direct independent evidence that confirms the disturbing findings that have been emerging internationally.

“Even with the very low rates of smoking that we have in Australia, we found that smokers have around threefold the risk of premature death of those who have never smoked. We also found smokers will die an estimated 10 years earlier than non-smokers,” she said.

George Butterworth, tobacco policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s a real concern that the devastation caused by smoking may be even greater than we previously thought.”

“Earlier research has shown, as a conservative estimate, one in two long term smokers die from smoking related diseases in the UK, but these new Australian figures show a higher risk.”

“Smoking habits differ between Australia and the UK in terms of how much people smoke and the age they start, so we can’t conclude that the two-in-three figure necessarily applies to the UK.”

In Australia, about 13% of adults smoke. In the UK, the figure is about 20%.

Health Direct points out that stopping smoking can bring a person’s health risks back down.

Ten years after quitting, risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker and risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked, according to NHS Smokefree.

NHS plans for earlier cancer diagnosis to save lives

Patients are to be given the option to refer themselves for cancer tests, as part of an NHS England bid to diagnose an extra 10% of people early.

NHS plans for earlier cancer diagnosis to save lives

The NHS said it would start testing new ways of speeding up diagnosis, including offering patients the option to book appointments directly with a hospital or testing unit ahead of seeing a GP.

The body will also fund further trials of a pioneering form of radiotherapy.

Currently, around 25% of cancer diagnoses are made too late to save the patients.

The plans are part of a drive to improve cancer survival rates in England, which are below the European average, especially for people over 75.

NHS England says diagnosing 60%, rather than 50%, of people early would mean 8,000 more patients would be alive five years after diagnosis.

This would also result in a fall in the number of cancer diagnoses which have to be made in A&E.

NHS England said it would test the following initiatives:

  • Enabling patients to book their own appointments directly with a hospital diagnostic service or testing unit instead of going to see their GP first
  • Offering patients different types of cancer tests in the same place, on the same day
  • Using community pharmacists to fast-track patients when recurring cancer symptoms are suspected
  • GPs sending patients directly for specific tests, without having to refer to a specialist
  • Better treatments
  • A potentially less damaging and more precise type of radiotherapy, called stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), has been shown to be effective when used to treat certain kinds of lung cancer.

Now NHS England wants to test how well SABR works on other types of cancer, by enrolling 750 patients a year in four new studies.

An NHS cancer taskforce, made up of cancer doctors, patient groups and charity leaders, has also been asked to draw up a five-year action plan for cancer services to make this happen.

Recent figures show that more than one in three people in the UK develop cancer, and half of those will now live for at least 10 years. Forty years ago, the average survival of cancer patients was just one year.