On the pulse 27 February 2013

  • Pamper Day at Cancerkin
  • “Wellbeing and work – are they compatible with chronic diseases?”
  • Study suggests that Herceptin may be effective against more types of breast cancer than previously thought

Pamper Day at Cancerkin
This year’s Pamper Day will be held on March 6th 2013 from 10.30am to 3pm. Led by Laurel Herman, a team of make-up artists, hairdressers, nail technicians and image consultants will descend on the Cancerkin Centre aiming to make you feel truly fantastic!

Laurel’s team includes some amazing people from the beauty industry, including Paul Herrington (former Creative Director at Bobby Brown) and Max Coles (Artistic Director at Michaeljohn’s Mayfair salon).

Spaces are limited and are running out. To book your place contact us on 020 7830 2323 or email Reema on r.ved@cancerkin.org.uk!

“Wellbeing and work – are they compatible with chronic diseases?”
Cancerkin’s annual lecture, taking place this year on Tuesday 19th March 2013. The lecture will be given by Professor Dame Carol Black DBE MD FRCP MACP FMedSci, the first UK National Director for Health and Work and current chair of the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, Health at Work Network.

The lecture will explore chronic diseases and their relationship to work. Work, for many people, is a key-determinant of self-worth and identity, besides providing income and a means of social participation and fulfilment.  For most people of working age, work – the right work – is good for their health and well-being; and for most people, worklessness is harmful. Work absence and inactivity often follow common health conditions and chronic diseases. In many circumstances this needn’t be the case; many conditions are compatible with work, if the right support is provided and the nature of the work can be tailored. Naturally, despite our best efforts, some people are too unwell or disabled to work at all, and their needs too should be answered promptly and adequately.

The lecture will take place in the Atrium of the Royal Free Hospital and will begin at 6.30pm, with a drinks reception from 5.45pm. Drinks and nibbles will also be served after the talk. Places are free; to reserve yours, please contact Holly, either on h.lovering@cancerkin.org.uk or 020 7830 2323. Spaces are limited, so please confirm your attendance by Friday 9th March 2013.

Study suggests that Herceptin may be effective against more types of breast cancer than previously thought
Research, published in the journal Cancer Research, has suggested that more women could benefit from Herceptin. Currently, Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab) is often given to women who test positive for high levels of a protein called HER2. Approximately 20 per cent of breast cancer patients have HER2-positive tumours and Herceptin has improved the survival rates in these women.

However, scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center wanted to understand previous research which indicated that some HER2-negative cancers still responded to Herceptin. They found that cancers registering as HER2-negative may still contain a small number (1 to 5 per cent) of treatment-resistant ‘cancer stem cells’, which respond to the HER2 protein and which play an important role in encouraging the cancer to grow and spread. This means Herceptin may be effective in treating a greater number of cancers than first thought. In particular, it is hoped that Herceptin might be useful in lowering the risk of reoccurrence for these cases (known as adjuvant treatment).

Study author Professor Max S Wicha said: “We can now provide a molecular explanation for the surprising finding the adjuvant Herceptin benefited some women with HER2-negative breast cancer.”

“If this is confirmed in clinical trials, it could alter our approach to breast cancer treatment.”

The researchers also found that where a primary breast tumour was classified as HER2-negative, levels of the HER2 protein were higher in the cancer cells which had spread to the bone (the most frequent site to which breast cancer spreads), compared to levels in the primary breast tumour.

Working with mouse models, they found that if Herceptin was given early, when tumours were very small, Herceptin helped to almost completely block bone tumours from growing. However, if it was administered later, once the bone tumours were established, the effect of the drug was negligible.

The researchers say that their findings indicate a move away from drugs that merely shrink tumours, to treatments that also target the cancer stem cells and so prevent cancer coming back. These drugs could then be used in conjunction with traditional chemotherapies, which will still be needed to eliminate the primary tumour cells.

Dr John Stingl, a Cancer Research UK expert of breast stem cells, said: “From a biological perspective, this work makes a lot of sense and could be an early step towards many more women benefiting from treatments that target HER2.”

“Tests to see if a woman may respond to Herceptin look for abnormally high levels of HER2 in the tumour, but actually this research suggests that much lower levels of HER2 can drive the growth of some breast cancers, particularly once they have spread.”

“This presents the tantalising prospect of combating this spread in ‘HER2-negative’ cancers with Herceptin.”

“We don’t know yet whether this will work in the clinic, but it will be exciting to see whether this elegant biological explanation means more women could benefit from this life-extending drug.”

It must be remembered, however, that this research is still in an early stage and patients with HER2-negative breast cancer are not advised to take Herceptin. Future work is still needed to identify which people will benefit from this treatment.

For more information, please see the Cancer Research UK.

On the pulse 20 February 2012

  • Annual Lecture: Dame Carol Black, “Wellbeing and work – are they compatible with chronic diseases?”
  • Hyde Park Walk 2013
  • Research has uncovered new insights into how genes are controlled and activated
  • New report indicates that lung cancer is set to overtake breast cancer as the biggest cause of female cancer death in Europe

Annual Lecture: Dame Carol Black, “Wellbeing and work – are they compatible with chronic diseases?”
Cancerkin’s annual lecture will take place on Tuesday 19th March 2013 and there are still places left if you wish to attend. This year, the lecture will be given by Professor Dame Carol Black DBE MD FRCP MACP FMedSci, the first UK National Director for Health and Work and current chair of the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, Health at Work Network. Her lecture will focus on the impact chronic diseases have on wellbeing and work and we would love to see as many of you as possible for what is sure to be a fascinating lecture of relevance not least to those with breast cancer who are of working age.

The lecture will take place in the Atrium of the Royal Free Hospital and will begin at 6.30pm, with a drinks reception from 5.45pm. Drinks and nibbles will also be served after the talk. Places are free; to reserve yours, please contact Holly, either on h.lovering@cancerkin.org.uk or 020 7830 2323. Spaces are limited, however, so please confirm your attendance by Friday 9th March 2013.

Hyde Park Walk 2013
Just a quick “save the date” message: we are delighted to announce that this year’s Hyde Park Walk will take place on Sunday 9th June 2013. Our largest event, the Hyde Park Walk (as the name suggests!) is a 10k sponsored walk around Hyde Park, and we would love to see you and your family and friends there to walk, run, or even dance the course!

More information, including how to register your place, will be sent out soon. It’s time to get excited!

Research has uncovered new insights into how genes are controlled and activated
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that the way in which DNA is packaged into cells could affect its function, including how certain genes become switched ‘on’ or ‘off’.

If the total DNA in a single human cell was laid out end to end, it would reach two metres in length. Therefore, as cells are far smaller than this, DNA is packaged, wrapped and wound into tight knots so it can be accommodated within the confines of the cell.

It was previously known that in cancer some genes become ‘switched on’ when they should be inactive and vice versa.  This research suggests that the way DNA is packaged may be an important factor in cancer development.

Director of Research at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Dr Julia Wilson, says: “It’s fantastic that we are learning more and more about the biology of breast cancer. It’s vital that we understand how breast cancer cells function and grow so we can design and develop better treatments for the disease.”

For more information, please see the Breakthrough Breast Cancer website.

New report indicates that lung cancer is set to overtake breast cancer as the biggest cause of female cancer death in Europe
The report, published this week in the Annals of Oncology, showed that lung cancer was already a bigger cause of death than breast cancer in the UK and Poland. This rise has been attributed to the surge in the number of women who started smoking in the 1960s and 1970s. The lung cancer death rate will continue on its upward trend for the next few years, but should decrease with time as fewer young European women are starting to smoke.

They calculated that in 2013, some 82,640 European women will die from lung cancer, while 88,886 will die from breast cancer. However, there has been a steady reduction in breast cancer deaths across Europe in the last four years, and by 2015, the scientists believe the balance will have shifted, with lung cancer causing more deaths.

The research considered cancer rates for the EU as a whole (27 member states as at 2007) and also in six individual countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and the UK – both for all cancers and, individually, for stomach, intestine, pancreas, lung, prostate, breast, uterus and leukaemias.

Figures show that although more and more people are developing cancer, as they are living longer, overall, fewer are dying from the disease.

Professor Carlo La Vecchia, one of the study authors said: “If these opposite trends in breast and lung cancer rates continue, then in 2015 lung cancer is going to become the first cause of cancer mortality in Europe.”

“This is already true in the UK and Poland…this predicted rise of female lung cancer in the UK may reflect the increased prevalence of young women starting smoking in the late 1960s and 1970s, possibly due to changing socio-cultural attitudes at that time.”

Speaking about the reduction in breast cancer deaths, Professor La Veccia added: “This reflects the important and accumulating advances in the treatment, as well as screening and early diagnosis of the disease.”

Jackie Harris, Clinical Nurse Therapist for Breast Cancer Care, commented: “This new research is further confirmation of an encouraging downward trend in breast cancer mortality. This is due to our increased knowledge of the biology of breast cancer, improved treatment options and earlier detection.”

“At the same time, though, the incidence of breast cancer is rising and it is important for people to be breast aware and report any changes to their GP as soon as possible.”

For more information, please see the BBC website, the Telegraph or Breast Cancer Care.

Holly Lovering                                                                                            20th February 2013

On the pulse 13 February 2013

  • Wig Workshop
  • A hyperactive enzyme may be responsible for genetic errors driving the majority of breast cancers
  • For women with early stage breast cancer, surgery that preserves the rest of the breast may offer survival odds as good as, or even better than, mastectomies.

Wig Workshop
On Tuesday we held another successful Wig Workshop with Magui and her team.  A group of stylists (including a make-up specialist), they gave information and advice on all things hairy before providing practical assistance which included the styling and cutting of wigs and the application of eyelashes. Everyone who attended spoke of how useful they found the workshop, with an increase in confidence being commonly cited.

We would like to say a big “thank you” to all the stylists who donated their time for us, and especially to Magui for all her work in organising another fun and successful session.

Magui also volunteers for ‘Look Good…Feel Better’. We still have a few spaces remaining for our next session, held on Tuesday 19th February 2013 from 2.00pm until 4.00pm. If you are interested in attending, or want more information, please contact us on info@cancerkin.org.uk or call 020 7830 2323.

A hyperactive enzyme may be responsible for genetic errors driving the majority of breast cancers
According to a study published in Nature, genetic errors driving the majority of breast cancers may be caused by a hyperactive enzyme called APOBEC3B.

Under normal circumstances, APOBEC enzymes help repair damaged DNA and protect against viruses like HIV. However, the researchers discovered that one particular form of APOBEC was found in high levels in breast cancer cells.

Lead researcher, Dr Reuben Harris, and his team measured the activity of seven related enzymes, known collectively as the APOBEC3 family, in breast cancer cells grown in the lab and breast tumour samples. They found that only one, APOBEC3B, was present in high levels inside cancer cells.

However, APOBEC3B appears to be a biological “double-edged sword”: while it can produce changes giving rise to cancer in some cells, it protects other cells from viruses such as HIV.

This new study adds to the research on enzymes and breast cancer.  In 2009, a study provided evidence that a related enzyme, called AID, could similarly edit breast cancer DNA when activated by oestrogen. Following on from that, last year, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge published a detailed analysis of the DNA damage in breast cancer, spotting signs that looked like the activity of APOBEC enzymes.

Dr Harris stressed the need to additional research: “Our next steps will focus on the connections between high levels of APOBEC3B, age and other genetic risk factors that are known breast cancer markers.”

“Ultimately, we hope our discovery leads to better therapeutic outcomes for patients.”

This finding could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer, exploiting the root cause of genetic damage (in this case “DNA editing” by the enzyme) rather than the damage itself. If future studies confirm that high APOBEC3B levels indicate the early presence of breast cancer, a simple blood test could be a strategy for early detection.

Cancer Research UK’s Professor Charlie Swanton, who studies the genetic complexity inside tumours, described this as a “fascinating and important study” that showed how researchers are beginning to understand the precise mechanisms that drive the genetic chaos found in cancer cells.

He said: “Pinpointing these mechanisms give us new avenues to try and limit this chaos, or maybe even exploit it to tip cancers over the edge…There is a long way to go before we get a handle on the cancer’s true genetic complexity, let alone turn this into treatments to help patients. But studies like this show that important and tangible progress is being made in understanding this disease.”

For more information, please see the Cancer Research UK website.

For women with early stage breast cancer, surgery that preserves the rest of the breast may offer survival odds as good as, or even better than, mastectomies.
The U.S. study, published in the journal Cancer, found that clinical trials showing lumpectomy, or the removal of the cancer only, to be as effective as mastectomies in treating early stage breast cancer.

The study used data collected by the Cancer Prevention Institute of California on 112,154 women who were diagnosed with stage I or stage II breast cancer between 1990 and 2004. Of these, 55% had a lumpectomy with radiation and the rest had a mastectomy without radiation. The researchers then tracked the women’s health for an average of nine years.

Overall, 31,425 of the women surveyed died by the time the study ended in 2009, with 39% of these deaths due to breast cancer. However, the researchers found that the women who had had a lumpectomy with radiation were more likely to survive than women who had a mastectomy, regardless of age or cancer subtype. The survival advantage with lumpectomy even held up when researchers accounted for age, tumour stage and type, race, economic status and other factors.

Lead researcher E. Shelley Hwang said the survival difference might be partly explained by the fact that women who got a mastectomy tended to be in worse health to begin with.

The study cannot prove that lumpectomy alone is the factor responsible for the improved survival and researchers did not have access to some specific details about the women’s tumours or whether some had genetic susceptibility to breast cancer.

Dawn Hershman, co-leader of the Breast Cancer Programme at Columbia University Medical Centre, said: “I wouldn’t overstate these results, because survival can come from other things.”

“Sometimes patients in practice can be very different from patients in randomised trails. It’s reassuring that patients who get breast-conserving therapy do at least as well as those with mastectomy.”

For more information, please see the Reuters article here.