Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. However, it has claimed less lives every year from 1999 to the present day. Despite these great strides in cancer research, not all oncologists agree on how close we are to a cure. All do agree, though, that the more we know about cancer, the better we can learn to live with it. Here are ten things that we already know about the deadly disease.
1. Cancer likes antioxidants.
Cancer cells needs nutrients to grow, and that includes antioxidants. Two different studies, one from Sweden and one from the USA, found that antioxidants activate a key protein for cancer growth. The protein increases the rate of metastasis and helps the tumor spread. The leader of the Swedish study, Professor Martin Bergo, said he thinks this finding could be used to develop new treatments.
If we can stop the flow of antioxidants to a tumor, then the protein will not be able to help the cancer spread. He also added, however, that this does not mean you should stop eating antioxidant-rich foods. They have many benefits and are part of a balanced diet.
2. Cancer is expensive.
Cancer presents an obvious struggle with the physical difficulty of treatment and potential death. But the cost of cancer goes beyond the emotional and physiological. A recent study found that almost half of cancer patients spend their entire life savings in the first two years of their treatment, and the average loss is nearly $100,000. Finding ways to lower the costs of treatment is key in future cancer developments.
3. Cancer is correlated with sugar.
One sugary drink a day is correlated with an increased cancer risk. This is not just limited to soda, either. It also includes fruit juice and artificially sweetened drinks like iced tea. The researchers who found this said that this finding supports existing nutritional guidelines, and should encourage policy action to limit sugar intake. However, they also said that the study did not prove a direct cause and effect relationship, and is also limited because it depends on the validity of information reported by the participants.
4. Too much grilling can increase your cancer risk.
The hydrocarbons that are forced when you grill at high temperatures are known to be associated with cancer. This means that your favorite grilled meats could be carcinogenic and prone to causing cancer. No direct cause and effect relationship has been established between grilling and cancer, but the hydrocarbons are known to damage DNA, and that is how cancer begins. High consumption of red meat has also been associated with colon cancer.
5. Doctors have developed a new theory about leukemia.
Leukemia is a blood cancer that affects one in every 2,000 children. The Institute of Cancer Research in London thinks they have found the cause: it is called “delayed infection.” This means that children develop a mutation before they are born that does not lead to any genetic changes until the child gets a common infection that causes an immune system response. The researchers also said, however, that exposing these children to some pathogens in the first year of their life could actually help their immune system develop defense.
6. Genetics are key in cancer treatment.
Cancer is a genetic disease. The better doctors and researchers get at reading and understanding cancer genomes, the more effective treatments will become. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, said that it will lead to more individualized treatment and better patient outcomes because doctors will have a better understanding of each tumor they encounter.
7. A cancer “vaccine” could change the face of cancer treatment. But not in the way you might think.
The future of cancer treatment could be as easy as an injection. In a recent study where an immunotherapeutic steroid was injected into a tumor, the immune systems of the patients had a very strong response. Immunotherapies work by directing the immune system to where the cancer cells are because tumors are typically good at hiding themselves from the body. The steroid in this study directed the immune system’s T-cells to attack the tumors, and it either caused remission or stopped metastasis in 9 of the 11 patients.
8. Doctors can treat tumors by turning them into fat cells.
Cancer is so difficult to fight because it has cell plasticity, or the ability to change its characteristics. Treatments that might be effective at the beginning thus become useless. This makes cancer resistant to most treatments and able to spread with ease. Some Swiss researchers have found a way to combat this, though. By using an anti-diabetic drug, they turned the cancer cells into fat cells and therefore made them incapable of dividing any further. The researchers think this could be used in combination with chemotherapy in the future.
9. Some bacteria can kill cancer.
Synthetic biology, which uses engineering to change biological systems, is becoming key in cancer research. In a recent study, scientists programmed bacteria to fight cancer through synthetic biology. The bacteria were injected into the tumor and then exploded, which drew the immune system to the tumor site so it could attack. Unfortunately, this test was done in mice, so the results do not necessarily mean a breakthrough for human tumors.
10. We’ve developed new ways to approach cancer.
More recent research on cancer is less focused on ultimate destruction of the tumor and on more integrative approaches. One such approach was a study that gave premenopausal women a drug that built their bones. Even though the drug did not target cancer, it reduced recurrence rates of cancer because the disease often spreads into bones. Another example is psychosocial treatment, which focuses on a patient’s mental health in fighting cancer.