Archive for the ‘Breast cancer research’ Category


Study links diabetes, advanced breast cancer

An international study has established a link between type 2 diabetes and advanced breast cancer.

An international study has established a link between type 2 diabetes and advanced breast cancer. (ABC TV)

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An international study has established a link between type 2 diabetes and advanced breast cancer.

It has been known for a while that being overweight puts post-menopausal women at greater risk of breast cancer.

But now it has been found that women who are resistant to insulin, or who are overweight, are 50 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the cancer, and only when it is in its advanced stages.

The finding comes after an international research team followed more than 60,000 Swedish women over 20 years.

Dr Anne Cust from the University of Melbourne is a collaborator in the study and will present the findings at a medical conference in Brisbane today.

Dr Cust told AM the study looked at the stage of breast cancer and the diagnosis.

“We found that women who were overweight or with insulin resistance were more likely to be diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer,” she said.

“We don’t know the exact reasons why that might be. It might be that the cancer is growing more quickly or that it wasn’t diagnosed early but we need to do more research to find out exactly why that might be.”

She says there are a number of hypotheses as to why overweight or diabetic women aren’t diagnosed earlier with breast cancer.

“It may be that the hormones that are involved, that are linked with being overweight or having insulin resistance, might be making the tumour grow more quickly but we need to do more research to find out exactly why that might be the case,” she said.

But Dr Cust says that does not necessarily mean that women who are at risk of type 2 diabetes should be screened for breast cancer more often.

“The question of screening is something that would need to be looked at separately but I think it is just providing another indication that being overweight is linked to lots of different health problems and this is another reason to get off the couch and try to stay active and maintain a healthy weight,” she said.

“And also, the link with insulin resistance may provide a new avenue of research for looking at the causes of breast cancer and possibly new treatments.”

Based on an interview by Simon Lauder for AM


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Brisbane scientists close to pain-free chemo

Side effects from traditional cancer treatments could soon be a thing of the past thanks to the work of a group of Brisbane scientists.

Doctor Nick Saunders from the University of Queensland says it should soon be possible to treat cancer patients with pain-free, highly-effective and selective chemotherapy.

Traditional chemotherapy kills any dividing cells in the body, not just cancerous ones, and can cause severe side effects.

Dr Saunders says the new developments should also help ease the community’s fears about cancer and its treatments.

“Unfortunately, because of the fear of cancer, people have a tendency to not present as early as they should,” he said.

“If people start to realise that the drugs that are coming through are going to be effective and not going to be associated with these side effects, then I think we’ll see people presenting a lot earlier.”

He says the improvements should lead to a significant reduction in the number of people dying from cancer.

“Whilst we certainly haven’t cured cancer, I think over the next decade we’re going to see some real advances in cancer treatments, and that should lead to a great deal more optimism amongst the community.”

Dr Saunders will present his research at a Brisbane Institute seminar today.

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Unconventional cancer treatments under investigation

A Gold Coast doctor facing disciplinary action by the Medical Board of Queensland says he has yet to receive any of the documents filed by the board.

Dr Michael Tait has been referred to the Health Practitioners Tribunal by the Medical Board of Queensland in relation to his use of unconventional medical practices to treat cancer patients.

Dr Tait says his life’s work has been to advance the treatment of people suffering from cancer and other terminal illnesses and says many forms of medicine have initially been considered alternative or controversial until they have been proven to be effective.

Board spokeswoman Kaye Pulsford says conditions have been placed on Dr Tait’s registration preventing him from using the treatments in question during the investigation.

The doctor says he will defend the charges.

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US research could switch off breast cancer gene

By Jane Cowan

The researchers hope that turning off the gene could knock out cancer with one blow.

The researchers hope that turning off the gene could knock out cancer with one blow. (Cancer Council Qld)

Researchers in the United States say they have identified for the first time the gene that causes breast cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

They liken it to a kind of genetic ‘crime boss’ or ‘kingpin’ that controls the expression of hundreds of other genes.

They hope that turning it off could knock out cancer with one blow and they say its presence could also be used to predict which cancers are likely to spread, so they can be treated aggressively.

In their research, published today in the journal Nature, the scientists say they have found a gene called SATB1.

In healthy people, SATB1 regulates the immune response and antibody production, but in the case of cancer it operates as a kind of master regulator, activating almost 1000 other genes to metastasise.

Researcher Dr Terumi Kohwi-Shigematsu from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California thinks of it as a kind of genetic ‘crime boss’.

“In the case of breast cancer, now SATB1 has turned into a really bad guy – it’s the boss of all the crime,” she said.

“Once it is expressed then breast cancer cells are destined to metastasise.”

Dr Kohwi-Shigematsu says the researchers are hoping that if they can turn SATB1 off so the cancer does not metastasise.

“So in the future it is possible to deliver an inhibitor of SATB1 into breast cancer cells -then it will be the most desirable therapy target,” she said.

Side effects

At the moment, cancer treatments are relatively non-specific are simply try to kill off the cancer by targeting cells that are actively growing.

The problem with that is there are a lot of other non-cancerous cells in the body that are caught in the same net, like those in hair and the intestinal system, so chemotherapy has a lot of side effects.

Associate Professor Jennifer Byrne is a molecular biologist working in oncology research at the Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney.

She says knocking out the master regulator gene could have its own unintended consequences.

“There is this idea that if there were genes that regulate many, many aspects of cancer and if we could sort of hit those genes on the head, then cancer would be sort of cut short with one blow,” she said.

“[But] clearly this gene hasn’t evolved just to cause cancer – it’s got normal functions as well.

“It doesn’t seem from this paper as if a great deal is known about those functions. I mean, can you interfere with its function in cancer cells without causing side effects to normal cells?”

Associate Professor Byrne says the American research is compelling but even if it can be replicated, it will be a long time before the knowledge can be used to help patients.

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Aspirin could cut breast cancer risk: study

Taking drugs like aspirin regularly could significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to a new report published in Britain.

The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cut the incidence of the cancer by 20 per cent, said the review of 21 studies into the issue over the last 27 years.

Such drugs could also help treat women who already have breast cancer, said Professor Ian Fentiman of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, who compiled the study.

“NSAIDs may well offer significant protection against developing breast cancer in the first place and may provide a useful addition to the treatment currently available to women who already have the disease,” he said.

“Recent studies of NSAIDs use have shown about a 20 per cent risk reduction in the incidence of breast cancer, but this benefit may be confined to aspirin use alone and not other NSAIDs.”

The review, published by the International Journal of Clinical Practice (IJCP), was based on 11 studies of women who already had breast cancer and 10 comparing women who did and did not have the disease.

Prof Fentiman warned that more research needs to be done on the exact type of drug, as well as how it is administered, before launching a full campaign to urge women to take the drugs regularly.

“The purpose of a review like this is to look at a wide range of published studies and see if it is possible to pull together all the findings and come to any overarching conclusions,” he said.

“This includes looking at any conflicting results and exploring how the studies were carried out,” he said, noting that some of the studies found no links between NSAIs and reduced levels of breast cancer at all.

Previous studies have suggested that aspirin can reduce the threat of bowel cancer, but the review is thought to be the first to say it can also cut the risk of breast cancer.

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Bleak outlook for oncology unit

The tender process to build a cancer treatment facility in Darwin has broken down.

The Territory Government says the Commonwealth has stalled the tender process to build the unit because it was too restrictive and wasn’t flexible enough.

The Commonwealth run project has already gone out to tender two times.

The Territory’s Health Minister Chris Burns says the news is disappointing.

“I can’t set a date at this stage except to say that I’ll be working hard over the next month and two months to start those direct negotiations with the proponents.”

The former member for Solomon Dave Tollner says the Territory Government hasn’t been committed to opening the cancer unit.

“They’ve run out of excuses. They can no longer blame a Liberal federal government.

“What is the hold up now? This is just ridiculous, it’s out of hand. The money is there, you know.

“Chris Burns needs to just get on and do it.”

Don Dellosa, a Territorian with cancer, says Government hasn’t got its priorities right.

“In the last 2-3 weeks, we’ve had $5.5 million for a couple of water slides at Lake Leanyer … Where are their priorities? You know, it’s peoples health we’re talking about.”

The Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says tender requirements set by the previous Federal Government have stalled the construction of a radiation oncology unit in Darwin.

But she says she hasn’t given up on the project.

“There were a range of problems with the way that tender process was set up by the previous government.

“That is something that we have inherited, and its going to be up to us to find a solution for the best ways that we can provide oncology services in Darwin.”

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NSW rolls out $26m breast screen upgrade

The New South Wales Government says it is starting a rollout of new technology to help regional and rural women get better access to breast screening services.

The $26 million upgrade of the BreastScreen program will see digital mammography technology set up in Bankstown, Liverpool, Newcastle, Dubbo, Tweed Heads, Lismore, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour over the next six months.

Five mobile vans will also be available throughout the state.

The Opposition’s spokeswoman for Women, Pru Goward, has welcomed the upgrade but says it has come too late for many breast cancer victims.

“We are behind the other states,” she said.

“One of the reasons for that is we have not invested in breast screening, particularly mobile screening for rural and country areas.

“Let’s hope that this is a beginning but not the end of the Government’s investment in breast screening.”

Ms Goward says the announcement of five mobile breast screening vans falls short of what is needed.

“We need even greater investment in mobile vans and then we need better investment in how you treat cancer in country areas, so that women don’t have to have mastectomies when their sisters in the city can get access to chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” she said.

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