Tag Archives: cancer

California study reports more gay men survive cancer

More gay men reported being cancer survivors than straight men in a new study from California, according to Reuters Health news.

That suggests they may need targeted interventions to prevent cancer, the researchers said, but more studies are needed to answer lingering questions. For example, are gay men more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than straight men? Or, are they just more likely to survive if they do get cancer?

“A lack of hard data” on how sexual orientation affects the risk of cancer is “one of the biggest problems we have,” said Liz Margolies, executive director of The National LGBT Cancer Network. Margolies, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health, “It’s critical that we know that for funding and for program planning.”

As a step toward addressing the lack of data, researchers looked at three years of responses to the California Health Interview survey, which included more than 120,000 adults living in the state.

Among other health-related questions, participants were asked if they had ever been diagnosed with cancer and whether they identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.

The findings are published in the journal Cancer.

Out of 51,000 men, about 3,700 said they had been diagnosed with cancer as an adult. While just over eight percent of gay men reported a history of cancer, that figure was only five percent in straight men. The disparity could not be attributed to differences in race, age, or income between gay and straight men.

About 7,300 out of 71,000 women in the study had been diagnosed with cancer, but overall cancer rates did not differ among lesbian, bisexual, and straight women.

However, among women who were cancer survivors, lesbian and bisexual women were more likely to report fair or poor health than straight women.

Ulrike Boehmer, the study’s lead author from the Boston University School of Public Health, said higher rates of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be related to the increased risk of cancer in gay men, but the study couldn’t address that question specifically.

Margolies thinks there is more going on.

Gay men as a group have a bunch of risk factors for cancer,” she said.

For instance, gay men and lesbian women are more likely to smoke and abuse alcohol than straight men and women. They’re also more likely to avoid going to see their doctor for routine physicals or cancer screening, Margolies added, since healthcare providers may not all be tolerant and accepting of their identity.

“I don’t think that we’re going to get people to have early screening or see doctors except in emergencies … until they can be guaranteed a safe and welcoming experience” at the doctor’s office, she said.

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Obesity linked to increased cancer risk

Two out of three adult Americans are at greater risk for getting cancer — and for dying of it — than they need to be, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune. Not because of smog in their air or radon in their basements. Not because of tobacco in their cigarettes or mutations in their genes.

No, the particular cancer risk shared by these 150 million or so Americans comes from having too many calories in their diet and too little exercise in their daily lives.

In other words, from being overweight.

It’s widely known that simply being overweight, let alone obese, dramatically increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. But according to a 2009 survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research, only about 50 percent of Americans know that size also matters when it comes to cancer.

The risk is not trivial. The same institute estimates that every year about 100,000 Americans get a cancer they wouldn’t have gotten if they had kept their weight in check. And researchers have estimated that about 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent in women could be avoided by this same restraint.

Obesity can raise the risk for a number of major cancers — colon, postmenopausal breast, endometrial, kidney and esophageal — the National Cancer Institute says, and when paired with physical inactivity, it can be held liable for 25 percent to 30 percent of cases of those cancers. Obesity has also been linked to a number of other cancers, including liver, gallbladder, pancreatic and ovarian.

“Obesity is almost like the new smoking,” says Dr. Anne McTiernan, director of the Prevention Center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “The effect isn’t as big for most cancers, but it’s so prevalent that it will have a huge impact.”

Indeed, the National Cancer Institute estimates that smoking accounts for 37.5 percent cancer deaths in men and 22.8 percent in women. But smoking does most of its dirty work in lung cancer victims. When lung cancer is taken out of the picture, smoking can only be blamed for 12 percent of cancer deaths in men and 6 percent in women — fewer than can be chalked up to excess pounds.

No one knows for sure exactly how weight increases cancer risk, but it’s likely that it does so in multiple ways, with the precise mechanism differing from cancer to cancer. High levels of estrogen, insulin and inflammatory compounds are among the suspects that have been implicated in research to date.

A more precise understanding of the biology behind all this may someday lead to drugs that can mitigate the damage. In the meantime, of course, there’s an excellent way to avoid the obesity risk, and that’s to never become obese at all.

“That would require major lifestyle changes for many of us, and making such changes is exceedingly hard,” said Dr. John Glaspy, an oncologist at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Sure, we could make it a death penalty offense to sell sugared drinks. But short of such extreme modes of encouragement, a widespread thinning of America is not to be expected anytime soon.”

Not only is there strong evidence that if you’re overweight, you’re more likely to die of cancer. It’s also been shown that the more overweight you are, the more deadly the trend gets, according to a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003.

Study: Cellphones may increase brain activity

The electromagnetic radiation emitted by a cellular phone’s antenna appears to activate nearby regions of the brain to unusually high levels, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that is likely to spark new concerns about the health effects of wireless devices.

The preliminary study, led by a respected neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health, raises many more questions than it answers. But by providing solid evidence that cellphone use has measurable effects on brain activity, it suggests that the nation’s passionate attachment to its 300 million cellphones may be altering the way we think and behave in subtle ways.

Researchers peered inside the brains of 47 healthy subjects using positron emission tomography, also known as PET scanning, to measure the location and timing of brain activity by detecting signs that cells were consuming energy. They found that despite official skepticism that cellphones’ electromagnetic energy exerts any influence on nearby cells — including statements issued by the Food and Drug Administration — it clearly does.

“Because there’s been such a massive expansion in cellphone use these past 15 to 20 years, it behooves us to try to understand whether, if we use these devices repeatedly and intensively for years, do they have lasting effects?” said study leader Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who researches how addiction affects the brain.

Those effects could vary widely depending upon the location of a cellphone’s antenna, the frequency on which it operates, and how long one uses the device, Volkow said.

What the study does not suggest is that cellphone use contributes to the development of brain cancers. Although that concern is pressed adamantly by activists, a growing body of research has failed to find evidence to support it.

The study found that two areas of the brain close to the phone’s antenna, which was embedded in the mouthpiece of the phone used, showed unusual increases in activity throughout a 50-minute period of live transmission. The researchers speculated that a cellphone with its antenna placed elsewhere — near the phone’s earpiece, for instance — might activate different regions in the brain.

That the heightened activity occurred closest to the antenna, and not near the place where the phone was in direct contact with the head, signaled to the study’s authors that the changes were a response to electromagnetic signals and not a reaction to the heat generated by the device. The FDA has taken the position that any harmful effects of cellphones are the result of tissue becoming overheated by direct exposure to the device as it warms with prolonged use.

Researchers also were careful to rule out that the increased brain activity was a response to language or other sounds heard over the phone. In their “live” phase, the phones in the experiment were connected to a recorded message, but the audio signal was muted, so subjects heard nothing.

Endothelial cells slow cancer growth in mice; humans will be tested

The cells that line blood vessels, called endothelial cells, regulate blood flow to tissues. At least, that’s what everyone thought until recently. Now researchers know that endothelial cells do much more and may even be harnessed for their power to stop cancer.

In a study published this week, researchers used endothelial cells to slow cancer growth in mice. In the 1980s, researchers realized endothelial cells did much more than serve as gatekeepers of blood flow. The cells influence the behavior of blood vessels, blood clotting, tissue repair and inflammation by releasing certain proteins.

Scientists at MIT and Harvard explored the idea that endothelial cells might also influence cancer growth because tumors rely on a blood supply to grow. In mice, they used secretions from endothelial cells to slow the growth and aggressiveness of cancerous tumors, also identifying the particular molecules in these secretions that were involved in the process.

The technology will be tested in humans, said the lead author of the study, Elazer Edelman, of the MIT-Harvard division of health sciences and technology. The treatment may boost the success of drugs that stop the growth of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis.

“The blood vessels feed the tumor but their endothelial cells control the cancer cells within,” Edelman said. “Giving the endothelial cells without the blood vessels provides the best of both worlds and perhaps one day could provide a new means of cancer therapy.”

Report: Life expectancy reversing

Life expectancy soared over the last part of the 20th century as treatments for major diseases improved and infectious diseases were quelled by vaccines and better treatment. The most recent data, however, hint that life expectancy is no longer growing, and, according to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago.

In a paper published Monday in the Journal of Gerontology, gerontologist Eileen Crimmins and her colleague Hiram Beltran-Sanchez, both of the University of Southern California, suggest that the goal of a long life marked by mostly healthy years may not be possible for most of humanity.

According to the analysis, the average age of morbidity — which is defined as the period of life spent with serious illness and lack of functional mobility — has increased in the last two decades.

For example, a 20-year-old man in 1998 could be expected to live an additional 45 years without at least one of these diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes. But that number fell to 43.8 in 2006.

For women, the expected years of life without a major, serious disease fell from 49.2 years to 48 years over the last decade.

The study also found that the number of people who report a lack of mobility, such as not being able to walk up steps or walk a quarter mile, has increased.

“There is substantial evidence that we have done little to date to eliminate or delay disease or the physiological changes that are linked to age,” the authors wrote.

They note that the age of a first heart attack did not change from the 1960s to the 1990s. Some types of cancers have increased and diabetes rates have soared.

“Substantial strides have been made in dealing with the consequences of disease,” they wrote, noting that people live longer with serious illness. But even life expectancy increases may be nearing an end, they wrote.

“We have always assumed that each generation will be healthier and longer lived than the prior one,” they said. “The growing problem of lifelong obesity and increases in hypertension and high cholesterol among cohorts reaching old age are a sign that health may not be improving with each generation. . .

“We do not appear to be moving to a world where we die without experiencing disease, functioning loss, and disability.”

Breastfeeding may help fight cancer

U.S. News & World Report offers four reasons women should breastfeed their children:

• Reproductive cancers. Prolonged nursing lowers risks of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer. This could be because it suppresses the hormones that play a role in those cancers.
 
• Heart disease. Women who nurse for at least 24 months during their lives have a 23 percent lower risk of developing heart disease. Nursing may also decrease dangerous visceral fat.

• Rheumatoid arthritis. A number of studies have linked breastfeeding to protection from rheumatoid arthritis. One found that nursing for a total of two years decreased the risk by 50 percent.

• Diabetes. Nursing protects against type 2 diabetes, possibly because lactation makes cells more sensitive to the hormone insulin.

Study: Cell phone towers don’t pose cancer risk to pregnant moms, children

A recent study of whether cell phone use boosts the odds of a brain tumor was inconclusive, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, and because of its complexities, that question won’t be settled any time soon.

But a study done in England came to a conclusion on a different mobile-related issue, and it should be reassuring for parents: Children of women who lived near a cell phone tower while pregnant had no higher risk of a childhood cancer than kids living far from the towers.

The study looked at 1,397 British kids aged up to 4 years with leukemia, or a brain or central nervous tumor, then compared them to similar kids who didn’t have cancer. Researchers measured how far the pregnant moms lived from cell towers and calculated the power each tower threw off.

“We found no association between risk of cancer in young children and estimated exposure to radiofrequency from mobile phone base stations during pregnancy,” the researchers wrote.