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The possibility of a vaccine for helping the body fight cancer just got one step closer. A vaccine that targets a specific type of usually incurable brain cancer called "diffuse glioma" has had very good results in a trial of the vaccine. This is great news for a brain cancer that, even with treatment, keeps spreading throughout the brain, and only has a general 5-year survival rate of 48.9%.

The most important findings of the vaccine trial: the 3 year survival rate after being fully vaccinated was 84%, and in this group of 30 patients - 63% did not have any progression in tumor growth. And 82% of one subgroup of patients whose immune system showed a specific response to the vaccines had no tumor progression within the 3 year study period. This is amazing news for a cancer that typically has such a bleak prognosis.

brain cancer, diffuse glioma
Diffuse glioma in the brain. Credit: NCI

In a follow-up to this trial the researchers are combining the vaccine with checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy (which give the immune system a boost), and which they think (are hoping) may produce even better results. Think of it this way - these treatments have the potential for you (your body's immune system) to effectively fight a cancer. The future is looking bright!

From Medical Xpress: First-ever vaccine for malignant brain tumors reported safe, effective in early trial

Tumor vaccines can help the body fight cancer. Mutations in the tumor genome often lead to protein changes that are typical of cancer. A vaccine can alert the patient's immune system to these mutated proteins. For the first time, physicians and cancer researchers from Heidelberg and Mannheim have now carried out a clinical trial to test a mutation-specific vaccine against malignant brain tumors. The vaccine proved to be safe and triggered the desired immune response in the tumor tissue, as the team now reports in the journal Nature.  ...continue reading "Encouraging Results For A Vaccine Targeting Brain Tumors"

Another study has been published finding that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables (5 servings a day) is associated with a longer life.

Researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health looked at the data from several large studies. They found that about 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetables was associated with the lowest mortality (death from any cause), and from deaths that can be attributed to cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. Specifically 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits.

Eating fruits and vegetables above that level (5 servings per day) didn't seem to make a difference. Another finding: eating starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes) and fruit juices were not associated with a lower risk of mortality.

However, keep in mind that the results were based on answers to Food Frequency Questionnaires (FFQ), where people answered questions about foods that they ate in the past year. Can you remember how frequently (daily, weekly, or monthly) you ate specific foods? Would you admit, in writing, that you eat lots of junk food or foods that you know are not so good for you?

As you can imagine, there is debate over how valid and reliable these questionnaires are. For example: Is It Time to Abandon the Food Frequency Questionnaire? in 2005, in 2015, and in 2018. FFQs are used because they are the cheapest option.

Some criticisms of FFQs: People don't accurately remember, and they may lie (they want to look better) by underreporting or overreporting foods. Also, the lists are premade - so if the foods you eat aren't on the lists, then it's not counted. Frequent omissions: onions, cucumbers, celery, quinoa, garlic, herbs.

Food dishes that contain many ingredients (such as many Asian dishes) can not be dealt with in FFQs that look at individual foods only. Canned foods are considered equivalent to fresh vegetables and fruits - yet they are not in many ways. No mention of organic vs non-organic foods (studies find nutritional differences, and a cancer link). Eh...

While filling out a sample online FFQ (from the National Cancer Institute) I realized that if I were part of a study - I would definitely answer so that my eating habits look better (!!), plus after answering for a while there was an urge to just get it over with (it took too long). Mutter to myself: "that sounds good, eh, who can remember..". Also, there was no way I would have admitted to any junk food binges.

From Science Daily:The right '5-a-day' mix is 2 fruit and 3 vegetable servings for longer life

Studies representing nearly 2 million adults worldwide show that eating about five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, in which 2 are fruits and 3 are vegetables, is likely the optimal amount for a longer life, according to new research published today in the American Heart Association's flagship journal Circulation.  ...continue reading "Eat At Least 5 Servings A Day of Fruits and Vegetables"

Many people don't realize that the plastic toys our children play with may contain harmful chemicals. Children get exposed to these chemicals by touching the toy (absorption through the skin), or ingesting chemicals (e.g. when a baby mouths the toy, or child ingests dust from the toy), but also from breathing in chemicals leaching out of all the plastic toys in the room into the air. This has been known a long time, yet here we are...

An international team of researchers looked at 419 chemicals and found 126 chemicals of concern (chemicals known to be harmful) in plastic toys - chemicals that they felt should no longer be used in children's toys. Many are endocrine disruptors, while others are linked to cancer. In this group were 31 plasticizer chemicals (including phthalates and BPA [bisphenol]), 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances. These chemicals can be measured in the urine. [Note: they did not look at some chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc.]

The researchers conclude: "Nowadays, existing regulations mainly prioritize a small set of chemicals, and regulators struggle to keep up with the thousands of new chemicals entering the market every year." They stress that we need to avoid "regrettable substitution" (substituting a dangerous chemical with another equally dangerous related chemical - such as replacing BPA with BPS). We need to identify safer substances that can be used in toys.

The more plastic toys in a room, the more exposure. They are outgassing all the time - even if you can't smell it. Soft plastic toys emit (outgas) the most chemicals. Children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. Currently there is no international agreement over which chemicals to ban or regulate, and not enough chemicals are regulated or banned in toys and children's products.

There is no way right now to know which plastic toys contain dangerous chemicals and which don't. Toy manufacturers do not tell us what chemicals are in the toys. So... yes, we absolutely need (global) regulations to totally ban the use of certain chemicals in plastic toys, especially because so many toys are produced in countries with weak environmental regulations. We need to use safer chemical alternatives in plastic toys.

Bottom line: Try to have fewer plastic toys, especially soft plastic toys. Try to ventilate rooms frequently (every day) by opening windows, even if only for a short while.

From Science Daily: Potentially harmful chemicals found in plastic toys

It has long been known that several chemicals used in plastic toys in different parts of the world can be harmful to human health. However, it is difficult for parents to figure out how to avoid plastic toys containing chemicals that may cause possible health risks to their children.   ...continue reading "Plastic Toys May Contain Harmful Chemicals"

In the future, giving specific microbes or entire microbial communities may be part of some cancer treatments! This is because the composition of a person's gut microbiome (the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses) influences whether a person responds to immunotherapy drugs. This means that the mixture and variety of microbial species living in your intestines may determine whether you respond to cancer immunotherapy drugs. Wow!

One recent study found benefits from fecal microbial transplants (FMT) - that is, transplanting the stool (which contains an entire microbial community of bacteria, fungi, viruses) from a donor who had responded well to immunotherapy drugs to a person with advanced melanoma who had not responded to immunotherapy drugs. In total, 15 persons received stool transplants, and 6 of them had changes to the gut microbiome (becoming more like the donor's gut microbiome) so that the immunotherapy drug now worked against melanoma.

Now studies are needed to identify which specific microbes are the ones that were critical for overcoming a tumor's resistance to immunotherapy drugs.

This is very exciting research because the best treatments for advanced melanoma (metastatic melanoma) are immunotherapy drugs, but it only works for a minority of patients at this point. Microbial manipulation (in this case with fecal transplants) could be a game changer!

Excerpts from Science Daily: Fecal microbiota transplants help patients with advanced melanoma respond to immunotherapy

For patients with cancers that do not respond to immunotherapy drugs, adjusting the composition of microorganisms in the intestines -- known as the gut microbiome -- through the use of stool, or fecal, transplants may help some of these individuals respond to the immunotherapy drugs, a new study suggests. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, conducted the study in collaboration with investigators from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh.  ...continue reading "Microbes and Advanced Melanoma Treatment"

Thankfully this rarely occurs, but so horrifying that it does. A study found that occasionally babies can contract cancer from their mothers during childbirth.

The Japanese study described the (rare) transmission of cervical cancer to two babies during birth, when the babies must have inhaled tumor cells as they were being born. Both later developed lung cancers, which were exact genetic matches to their mothers' cancers.

This is how rare it is: Approximately one in 1000 live births involves a mother who has cancer, but transmission of the cancer is estimated to only occur to one infant for every 500,000 mothers with cancer. 1 in 500,000. Most other cases have involved leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma cancer cells crossing the placenta during pregnancy (transplacental transmission).

From Medical Xpress: Women may transmit cancer to infants in childbirth, reports suggest

In extremely rare instances, newborns can contract cancer from their pregnant moms during delivery, a new case report suggests.  ...continue reading "Rare Cases of Babies Contracting Cancer From the Mother During Birth"

Great news for men who eat a Mediterranean style diet! A study found that after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, those men who ate a Mediterranean style diet had less progression of the cancer over the next three years.

These were men who were diagnosed when the cancer was still localized and who were doing "active surveillance", that is, just actively watching the cancer  and not having cancer treatments.

A Mediterranean style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, fish, and extra virgin olive oil. It is a diet high in fiber, and low in processed meats, fats, sugar, and highly processed foods.

The Mediterranean diet is associated with health in a number of ways, such as lowered risk of death and a number of diseases (e.g. heart disease), and also lowered levels of chronic inflammation. It also has a beneficial effect on gut microbes, resulting in an increase in beneficial microbes that are associated with health and lower levels of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to cancers and a number of diseases - thus the goal is to keep inflammation levels down.

The Univ. of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers said that the findings support the idea that a Mediterranean diet can affect prostate cancer progression through lowering of systemic inflammation. The researchers write: "The Mediterranean diet may be beneficial for men with localized prostate cancer on active surveillance  because of its anti‐inflammatory, antilipidemic, and chemopreventive properties." [chemopreventive means it "prevents or slows the development of cancer"; antilipidemic is something that "reduces lipid levels in the blood"]

From Science Daily: Mediterranean diet may decrease risk of prostate cancer progression

In a study to examine a Mediterranean diet in relation to prostate cancer progression in men on active surveillance, researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that men with localized prostate cancer who reported a baseline dietary pattern that more closely follows the key principles of a Mediterranean-style diet fared better over the course of their disease.   ...continue reading "Mediterranean Diet May Lower the Risk of Prostate Cancer Progression"

organic grains, oatsAchieve dramatically lower pesticide levels in your body in a few days! No need for "colonics" or "detox regimens". All one has to do is eat organic food to lower pesticide levels! And the more organic food in the diet, the better.

We ingest small amounts of pesticides when we eat and drink conventionally grown foods, and these pesticides can be measured in our urine and blood. Studies have found that switching to an organic diet lowers the amounts of pesticides (e.g. chlorpyrifos, 2,4-D) in the body, and now glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) can be added to the list. This is because glyphosate is used to grow conventional foods, but it is not allowed to be used on organic crops or in organic food production.

A recent study found that eating an all organic diet lowered glyphosate and AMPA (glyphosate metabolite) levels, in both adults and children, more than 70% in 6 days. The study measured glyphosate and its metabolites (in the urine) in members of 4 families who typically did not eat organic food, and who lived in different parts of the US. During the organic phase lasting 6 days, all the food the 16 people ate was organic - it was provided to them.

Before the organic phase of the study, both glyphosate and AMPA (glyphosate metabolite) were detected in more than 93.5% of urine samples in the study participants. Glyphosate and AMPA levels were substantially higher in children than in their parents, and this was true in both the conventional and the organic diet phases of the study, even after levels went down. The researchers thought that perhaps children were getting more environmental exposures (parks and school grounds), or perhaps they metabolize the pesticide slower than adults. (It's unknown why.)

Glyphosate has been linked to cancer, to effects on the kidneys and liver, endocrine disruption, and alteration of the gut microbiome. The overwhelming majority of people have glyphosate or its metabolites in their bodies. We get pesticides into our bodies through inhalation, absorption through the skin, and we ingest them in foods and beverages. As more and more glyphosate is used each year on crops, the levels in our bodies have been increasing. ...continue reading "Lower Your Pesticide Levels By Eating Organic Foods"

Are human papilloma viruses (HPV) causing some prostate cancers? And could getting the HPV vaccine help in preventing some cases of prostate cancer? Sure sounds like it according to a recent study published by Australian researchers.

The researchers reviewed 26 studies and came to the conclusion that while prostate cancer likely has many causes, it appears to also have an infectious viral cause - specifically certain human papilloma viruses (HPVs). They point out that HPV vaccines protect against the high risk HPV types 16 and 18, which cause the majority of cervical cancers, and also appear to be implicated in some prostate cancers.

From Medical Xpress: Potential causal role of human papilloma viruses (HPVs) in prostate cancers

Human papilloma viruses (HPVs) - a common group of viruses known to cause cervical cancers—may also have a causal role in prostate cancer, according to a literature review published in the open access journal Infectious Agents and Cancer, supporting the case for universal HPV vaccination. 

James Lawson and Wendy Glenn, at the University of New South Wales, Australia reviewed results from 26 previous studies on HPVs and their links to prostate cancer. They assessed the existing evidence using a common set of nine causal criteria, including the strength and consistency with which HPVs were associated with prostate cancers and whether HPVs were detected in prostate tissues that later went on to develop cancer.  ...continue reading "Prostate Cancer and Human Papilloma Viruses"

Evidence is accumulating that engaging in exercise may not only prevent cancer, but that in those who already have cancer - it may prevent progression of the cancer. Fantastic!

A large 2019 review of 9 studies (755,459 individuals) found that 2 1/2 hours per week of "moderate-intensity" physical activity or exercise (e.g. brisk walks) really lowers the risk of 7 cancers: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, myeloma, liver, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some (but not all) were lowered in a dose response manner, that is, the more exercise (up to 5 hours per week), the bigger the protective effect.

Another 2019 review article stated that there are hundreds of studies in the field of "exercise oncology" which have examined the effect of exercise on cancer in humans. The studies find that exercise may prevent cancer, control cancer progression, and interact positively with anticancer therapies. (One example: a study found regular moderate or vigorous physical activity is associated with lower rates of death in men diagnosed with prostate cancer.)

In addition, hundreds of animal (mice and rat) and laboratory studies show that the anticancer effects of exercise are causal, not just an association. There is evidence that each exercise session actually has an effect on cancer tumors. And that the more exercise sessions, the bigger the effect!

Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move! Plan to do this every week for years.

An infographic that illustrates how exercise has anticancer effects, from The Scientist:  Infographic: Exercise’s Anticancer Mechanisms

Excerpts from the accompanying April 2020 article by Prof. Bente K. Pedersen (Univ. of Copenhagen) on how regular exercise has anticancer effects. From The Scientist: Regular Exercise Helps Patients Combat Cancer

Physical exercise is increasingly being integrated into the care of cancer patients such as Mathilde, and for good reason. Evidence is accumulating that exercise improves the well being of these patients by combating the physical and mental deterioration that often occur during anticancer treatments. Most remarkably, we are beginning to understand that exercise can directly or indirectly fight the cancer itself.  ...continue reading "Regular Exercise Has Anticancer Effects"

Some more good news for women who breastfeed their babies. A large international study found an association between breastfeeding and an average 24% lower incidence of ovarian cancer years later (when compared to women who never breastfed).

But if you look at the results more closely, you see that the longer the woman breastfeeds, the lower the risk of ovarian cancer - so that breastfeeding for 3 months was associated with an 18% lower risk, while breastfeeding for 12 months or more is associated with a 34% lower risk.

Over the years, other studies found that breastfeeding is associated with a number of health benefits for the mother, such as a lower risk of diabetes and breast cancer.

From Medical Xpress: Breastfeeding linked to lower ovarian cancer risk ...continue reading "Breastfeeding Associated With A Lower Risk Of Ovarian Cancer"