Tag Archives: Lung cancer

New anti-PD-1 immunotherapies beating some cancers

They’re not quite ready to call it a cure, according to Dr. Susan Goodin of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium. But researchers are very excited about the number of seemingly complete and relatively long-lived remissions they’re seeing in certain kinds of cancers using this new immunotherapy. Used alone and sometimes in combination with other drugs or modalities, the drugs are forcing a certain percentage of melanomas and smoking-induced lung cancers to yield. Read more about how Johns Hopkins is moving ahead with anti-PD-1 research.

English: James Earl "Jimmy" Carter
English: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is revolutionary thinking about a new way to tap into the astounding power of our own immune system to fight cancer. It doesn’t yet work consistently with all cancers or for all patients, according to Dr. Jeffrey Sosman of Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. A lot more research is needed on how to identify who can benefit and how to translate the principle into drugs for other types of cancers. But its effects can be near-miraculous for some – in one such instance, 91-year-old President Jimmy Carter’s brain tumors disappeared.

Here’s Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Center’s quick-and-dirty cartoon video about how the anti-PD-1 drug hooks up with the PD-L1 expression on the cancer cell (antigen).

Cost is said to be staggering for these new drugs. But according to Dr. Sosman, the cost has nothing to do with the science involved. It’s more a function of what the market will bear. And he said there are ways to get the drugs for patients who desperately need them but can’t afford them.

More dramatic progress in learning how to work with nature rather than against it.

Air pollution linked to lung cancer and heart failure hospitalizations, death

Just as President Obama is making a public stand to combat global warming, scientists are proving that air pollution isn’t just an inconvenience. In fact, long-term exposure even to low levels of pollution – such as living in a big city all your life -increases your risk of lung cancer, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology journal. The pollutants mentioned in this study included “nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (including traffic, industry, and domestic heating).”

Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Pollution (Photo credit: SEDACMaps)

What’s more, another study found a “strong and consistent” relationship between exposure to pollution and hospitalizations or death from congestive heart failure. The risks increased with “exposure to air pollutants, including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide [a big contributor to smog].” This study concluded its findings by saying, “air pollution is a pervasive public health issue with major cardiovascular and health economic consequences, and it should remain a key target for global health policy.”

I read a news item about these studies the other day when the early morning temp was 80 degrees and the humidity was 81%. I have never been inclined to go out walking in weather like that, but now there’s a stronger reason beyond simple discomfort to stay home. For a person living with heart failure, taking a walk in those conditions could be considered suicidal.

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Even accepted targeted lung cancer therapies can miss the point

When a 61-year-old woman died recently after having received an accepted targeted treatment—known as stereotactic body-radiation therapy—doctors had to start re-thinking both the radiation dose and the treatment itself.

Non-small-cell lung carcinoma
Non-small-cell lung carcinoma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Months after she’d received the treatment for early-stage adenocarcinoma, a type of non-small cell lung cancer, the woman came back suffering. Doctors found not only that her cancer had metastasized but also that a large portion of healthy tissue in her airway had been destroyed by the radiation.  They then treated her with chemotherapy rather than radiation, but she died anyway a few months later.

Despite doctors following accepted protocol, the patient died. It took courage to report this case, according to the US News and Health article. Even though this incident is about a single patient, having it on the record can help other doctors think more carefully about how and how much to use this increasingly popular therapy.

Let us hope physicians are all as brave and forthcoming if and when they discover dangerous or devastating side effects from the new nanoparticle-based targeted cancer therapy techniques.

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How dogs tell sickness – can technology help us learn?

nose to nose
Image by pixieclipx via Flickr

Dogs can smell seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks, and doctors are working to see if they can be trained to detect other diseases such as cancer. A recent study suggests we humans may soon begin to emulate their powerful scenting abilities—with technology, of course.

New hope for early diagnosis comes from an electronic nose, a version of which is already in use in the food, wine and perfume industries. It generates a pattern, or “smell print”, in response to a given odor, then researchers analyze and compare that pattern with stored patterns. They’ve developed one that can tell from a person’s exhaled breath if that person has pneumonia. Now they’re studying the e-nose in the hope they can one day make it detect ashtma and some versions of lung cancer. A test of an e-nose has already been done to detect malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer.

I X Key _ 59 Pr
Image by I X Key via Flickr

So that’s how they can keep producing winning smells in food, wine and perfume! And here I thought it was magic—the way I used to think that music composition was the most wonderfully mysterious art of all, because I had no idea how they did it until I studied music. I remember the article in Time magazine a few decades ago that contained a dozen gorgeous abstract paintings—and explained that they’d been generated by numerical equations plugged into a computer.  It blew my mind to realize that math and art were not only not radically different but were merely two different ways of looking at the same thing.

Even as we begin to discover more and more ways to heal the human body using the gentle tools of the universe such as stem cells, rather than violating the body with cutting, assaulting tools such as surgery and chemotherapy, we can take comfort, too, in the idea that many of the mysteries of the earth might one day be translatable to and from mathematical equations.

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Early palliative care improves end of life in lung cancer

When death is near, do lung cancer patients live longer with chemotherapy or with early palliative care? Patient

Of the three types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer is the most common. Oncologists have been trained to treat it aggressively, including heavy use of chemotherapy.  Some researchers decided to test informal conclusions reached earlier that seemed to show that such aggressive use of chemo in the last stages of cancer improved survival.

Unlike previous looks at these alternatives, the current study was carefully designed, and it found conclusively that giving patients early palliative care—i.e., treating only to relieve symptoms rather than trying to cure the disease—along with standard oncology care, but excluding chemotherapy, actually does increase patient survival times. What’s more, it definitively improves quality of life during the last 60 days before death.

A part of that QOL improvement in the study came because, in stopping the aggressive treatment, doctors were not inadvertently leading patients to believe that such treatment might still potentially save their lives. The patients  better understood the truth of their situation.

I am glad to hear there is now scientific backing for this quieter end to life. It’s hard enough knowing you’re going to die, but even worse to have to meanwhile suffer the discomforts and indignity of having your body bombarded with and fighting the effects of poisonous chemicals. This is a time when you may want all your strength and clarity of mind to find closure with your loved ones and peace with the end of your life.


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