Monday, September 22, 2008

Does acupuncture help with breast cancer?

Acupuncture is as effective and longer lasting in managing the common debilitating side effects of hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive sweating (vasomotor symptoms) associated with breast cancer treatment and has no treatment side effects compared to conventional drug therapy, according to a study presented at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) Meeting in Boston.

The findings show there were additional benefits to acupuncture treatment for breast cancer patients, such as an increased sense of well being, more energy, and in some cases, a higher sex drive, that were not experienced in those patients who underwent drug treatment for their hot flashes.

The reduction in hot flashes lasted longer for those breast cancer patients after completing their acupuncture treatment, compared to patients after stopping their drug therapy plan.

Approximately eighty percent of women treated for breast cancer suffer from hot flashes after being treated with chemotherapy and/or anti-estrogen hormones, such as tamoxifen and Arimidex. Although HRT is typically used to relieve these symptoms, breast cancer patients cannot use this therapy because it may increase the risk of the cancer coming back.

Patients are often treated with steroids and/or antidepressant drugs instead. These drugs, however, have additional side effects, such as weight gain, nausea, constipation and fatigue. The antidepressant, venlafaxine (Effexor), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, is one of the most common drugs used to treat hot flashes. However, many women decide against this treatment choice because of potential side effects, including decreased libido, insomnia, dizziness and nausea, or because they do not want to take any additional medications.

At ASTRO, the randomized clinical trial compared acupuncture treatment to venlafaxine for 12 weeks to find out if acupuncture reduced vasomotor symptoms in breast cancer patients receiving hormonal therapy and produced fewer side effects than venlafaxine. The study included 47 breast cancer patients who received either tamoxifen or Arimidex and had at least 14 hot flashes per week.

Overall, the results demonstrated that acupuncture reduces hot flashes as effectively as venlafaxine, with no side effects, and also provides additional health benefits to patients. This approach, although unusual, offers a safe and effective option for women with hormone-sensitive breast cancer.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Can a vaccine help fight breast cancer?

A new vaccine in development targets breast cancers that proliferate aggressively in response to the growth factor HER-2. About 25-30% of women with breast cancer have HER-2 positive tumours. Herceptin (trastuzumab), a man-made antibody approved for the treatment of breast cancer, targets these cancers. However, tumour cells often become resistant to Herceptin over time. The experimental breast cancer vaccine makes mice reject tumours, even in cancers that are no longer sensitive to Herceptin.

The researchers published in the findings in Cancer Research and found that the vaccine elicits immune responses that kill HER-2 positive breast tumours in mice, irrespective of whether they become Herceptin resistant. If immune cells are properly primed by immunisation, then the cells can be destroyed.

The vaccine, developed at the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, used DNA that carries the genetic code for a key piece of the HER-2 molecule. After injection of the DNA into the skin, a small electric pulse is administered to help cells take up the DNA and produce the protein that elicits immune responses.

Mice given the vaccine made anti-HER-2 antibodies. The vaccine also primed cellular immune responses that attacked breast cancer tumours. These cellular responses alone were enough to kill HER-2 positive cells in mice unable to make antibodies.

A version of the vaccine is now undergoing human safety tests.

A different HER-2 vaccine made headlines earlier this year when it halved the number of deaths in women with HER-2 positive breast cancer. The vaccine also slowed breast cancer recurrence. However, the researchers found that 26 months after vaccination, there was no significant difference in cancer recurrence between vaccinated and unvaccinated women.

In the long run, it is vitally important to test the animal research in humans to determine which approaches are valid and which are not. Early promising results do not always translate into survival advantages, but as we learn more about the science and biology of cancer, the technical approaches can only improve.

The concept behind using the bodies immune system to fight disease, including cancer, is a solid one but getting vaccines to work has proven elusive so far in solid tumours. More promising results have been seen in immune-related cancers such as NHL, but as the technology improves, we may one day see some advances in women with breast cancer.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

As a mark of respect

There will be no blog posts today in memory of those who died on 9/11 seven years ago.

Blogging will resume tomorrow.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Former NBA star Charles Barkley helps educate on colonoscopies

I was a bit surprised to read that the former 76'ers star, Charles Barkley, agreed to have a colonoscopy televised for Stand Up To Cancer last week, but it certainly generated some increased awareness and interest, even if he did become the butt of some obvious jokes.

You can see more about the newsworthy event HERE.