Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mastectomy may be in the offing for 45-year-old

Actress Shannen Doherty preempts breast cancer hair loss by shaving her head

Shannen Doherty, with pre-cancer
treatments haircut in process.
Suddenly, actress Shannen Doherty is bald.

Temporarily, at least.

She's shaved her head while fighting breast cancer, according to a recent Associated Press story in the Washington Times.

The 45-year-old Doherty posted six black-and-white photos on Instagram that showed her lopping off her locks, preceded by another picture with a caption carrying the phrase #cancersucks.

Her cancer initially was disclosed in a lawsuit filed last year against her ex-business managers.

It alleged that they caused her health to deteriorate while they mismanaged her money. She charged in the suit that her cancer went undetected because she put off going to a doctor when they let her insurance lapse.

Doherty gained fame in a four-year stint as Brenda Walsh on "Beverly Hills 90210" — but even greater notoriety as being someone extremely difficult to work with.

The actress — who maintains she'll probably be unable to have children because of her cancer treatments — has signed to do a television series based on the 1995 Kevin Smith movie, "Mallrats."

She's also said she's prepared to have a mastectomy if other treatments fail.

You can learn about the psychological damage of hair loss in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

DNA mutations plus sun damage equals trouble

Genes linked to red hair and pale skin increase your risk of melanoma, a new study says

News reports, I've found, sometimes merely confirm what conventional and folk wisdom have known forever.

Case in point — the recent UPI story (based on one in HealthDay News) that carried the headline "Genes tied to red hair, pale skin greatly raise melanoma risk."

I could have told you that. 

Because I've been living for a long time with a woman with red hair and pale skin and freckles.
Nancy Fox — and her long red hair.

My wife, Nancy Fox, successfully had a melanoma on her arm removed — after she'd conquered breast cancer. And neither of us can count how many pre-cancerous growths she's had dermatologists cut out, burn off or otherwise remove.

But what I hadn't realize was that, at least according to the story, having the troublesome gene mutation — known as MC1R— "is roughly equivalent to the person spending an extra 21 years in the sun."

The British study, which examined more than 400 people and whose findings were published in Nature Communications, determined that "there were 42 percent more mutations linked to sun damage in the tumors of those carrying the red hair gene variant than in those without that DNA."

It showed, moreover, that "skin cancer isn't just about being more vulnerable to the sun's harmful UV rays. Carrying the MC1R gene variant raises the number of mutations triggered by sun exposure, the researchers explained, but it also raises the level of non-sun-linked mutations within tumors."

I, not incidentally, based my VitalityPress book, "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," which is aimed at male caregivers, on my wife's courage in battling her cancers. 

Unfortunately, what she's still faced with — constantly — is having doctors take off pre-cancerous growths from her face, arms and other body parts. All because she has red hair and pale skin and didn't protect herself from the sun when she was young.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Risks of side effects and over-treatment cited

Estrogen-suppressing drug may lower cancer patients' odds of recurrence, new study reveals

A new study says letrozole, an estrogen-suppressing drug, can benefit breast cancer patients.

If post-menopausal women with early-stage breast cancer take the aromatase inhibitor for 10 years instead of five, according to a recent story by Andrew Pollack in The New York Times, the chances of their cancer returning is lowered by 34 percent.

And their odds of developing a new case of cancer in the other breast dropped similarly.

The study — which involved 1,900 post-menopausal women in the United States and Canada — was presented to the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting, and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Skeptics, however, said the extra five years boosted "the risk of side effects like bone loss and joint and muscle pain."
Dr. Eric Winer

Dr. Eric Winer, director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston's breast cancer program and an author of the study, insisted the added five years is "an option but not the standard," and specifically noted that the new approach isn't for every woman.

"You have to be careful not to over-treat everyone," The Times quoted him as warning.

But, he told the newspaper, it's "most important to prevent recurrence outside the breast because that is what kills people."

Typically, the article said, women now take either tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor "to block or suppress estrogen in hopes of keeping the cancer from returning."

Guidelines from the oncology society suggest that women take tamoxifen for 10 years "because studies have show this prevents cancer recurrence and improves survival."

But woman also may take tamoxifen for five years and follow with an aromatase inhibitor for another five.

The majority of post-menopausal women currently start on the latter.

To learn about these or other cancer drugs, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

15,000 results from Silicon Valley startup studied

Will new liquid biopsies replace painful, risky, invasive tumor tests? Perhaps, research says

Are painful, risky biopsies on the way out?


According to a recent story by Andrew Pollack in The New York Times, a new test known as a liquid biopsy can detect cancer mutations — with results that apparently agree, generally, "with those of an invasive tumor biopsy."

Conventional biopsies mean a needle or surgery extracts a piece of a tumor. But both those methods can lead to complications.

The liquid biopsies, the Times piece says, "take advantage of the fact that DNA fragments from tumors can be found in tiny amounts in the blood of patients with cancer."

Dr. Philip C. Mack
The story quotes researcher Philip C. Mack, Ph.D. director of molecular pharmacology at the U.C. Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, who presented his result at the annual meeting of 
the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The findings come from a study that looked at the results of more than 15,000 liquid biopsies performed by Guardant Health, a Silicon Valley startup, on people with breast, lung, colorectal and other cancers.

So far, the liquid test only monitors disease progression or detects the genetic mutations "that could suggest which drug should be used," according to The Times, and is not yet used to diagnose cancer.

And it isn't cheap — with a list price of $5,800.

Dozens of companies, The Times notes, "are now developing or offering liquid biopsies, and tissue biopsy companies are trying to defend their turf."

Cancer research is extensive. To learn more about it, check out "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.