Smokers: Make the Choice to Improve Your Life Today

By Cliff Douglas, JD

Stopping smoking is hard. For many smokers, it may take multiple tries to break the addiction for good. And often, getting support from friends, family, and experts is what smokers need to make the life-saving choice to quit.

That’s why the American Cancer Society gives extra inspiration to smokers nationwide each year through its Great American Smokeout – a day when smokers are encouraged to quit for the day and make a plan to quit for good.

Quitting even for one day is an important step towards a smoke-free life, but even that can prove difficult.

As someone who has been in the fight against tobacco for more than 25 years, I have seen just how challenging it can be for smokers to quit. I have helped pass laws making airplanes smoke-free, worked to defend local smoke-free restaurant and workplace laws, and consulted to United States government leaders about what more we as a nation can do to put an end to the harms of tobacco use.

But even with all of the progress we have made, for those who smoke, quitting is still a hard-fought battle to win. Some people are able to quit on their own, without the help of others or the use of medicines.… Continue reading →

More on hot dogs and health

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

Nearly five years ago, I wrote a blog about reports that rotisserie chicken was worse for you than hot dogs. It wasn’t strictly true then, and now there’s even more evidence that choosing that hot dog may not be the best choice.

Hot dogs are in the news again. You’ve probably seen the recent headlines: “Bad Day For Bacon: Processed Meats Cause Cancer, WHO Says.”  “Bacon, Hot Dogs as Bad as Cigarettes.”  Or Time Magazine’s cover:  “The War on Delicious.”

Consumer and industry reaction was fast (and furious in some cases, if the Twittersphere is any indication). What prompted all of this? The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), recently released a report classifying processed meat as a carcinogen (something that causes cancer) and red meat, a probable carcinogen.

Red meat (think beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (think hot dogs, bacon, deli meats) have been linked with cancer, colorectal (commonly called colon cancer) particularly, for a number of years. And the American Cancer Society has recommended since the early 1990s that consumers limit consumption of these foods.

This new report was generated by 22 experts from 10 countries who reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions.… Continue reading →

Does hormone therapy for breast cancer affect the brain?

By Jeffrey D. Bbottle blurlaustein, PhD

 An important treatment for many breast cancer patients – called hormone therapy, or what I call anti-hormone therapy for reasons that will become clear  – may have side effects that impact brain function – an issue that often gets overlooked.

The vast majority of breast cancers (60-80%) contain estrogen receptors (ERs), so they are referred to as ER-positive. Treatment for ER-positive breast cancer aims to block estrogens in one way or another. These treatments are referred to as hormone therapy.

ER-positive breast cancer patients may get hormone therapy for different reasons. For post-menopausal women, they may be given this treatment after surgery to try to keep the cancer from coming back. In premenopausal women, treatment is typically an estrogen receptor blocker.

While hormone therapy can be effective, as with most drugs, it may also cause possible side effects that can affect quality of life, which you and your oncologist should consider when choosing (or not-choosing) treatment.

An often-overlooked, and also understudied, side effect of hormone therapy is its negative impact on the brain. Research has shown that estrogen-blocking treatments may have a variety of side effects on the brain including possibly increasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety and decreasing verbal memory and fluency.… Continue reading →

Do elephant genes hold the key to stopping cancer?

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By Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, MPH

The DNA of every plant and animal contains the instructions for the chemical reactions that take place in its cells and is essentially the chemical blueprint of that organism. Some of those chemical reactions control how, when, and where cells grow.If those instructions are damaged or deleted, cells can grow and spread abnormally, leading to the diseases we know as cancer. Much of the recent progress in oncology is based on progress in understanding the changes to certain genes in our DNA that cause cancer.

A recent study by researchers from the University of Utah and their colleagues at several other institutions explains how genes in elephants’ DNA might reduce their risk of developing cancer. The elephant gene in question, TP53, is also present in humans, and is damaged or deleted in more than half of all human cancers.

Why elephants matter to cancer researchers

Every time a cell divides, it needs to copy its DNA so that both of the new cells have a full copy of the genetic instructions they need. Cells divide for 2 main reasons – to replace damaged or worn-out cells, and so the plant or animal can grow larger.… Continue reading →

You can do it: fitting in walking has so many benefits

By Alpa Patel, PhD

I just got in from taking a walk with friends on a picture-perfect day with blue skies and the feel of autumn in the air. Let me start by telling you how rejuvenating it is to begin working on a blog after a dose of fresh air!

Last week, the U.S. Surgeon General published a Call to Action to specifically promote walking. I was pretty excited about this because my research largely focuses on physical activity and health, and well, because I personally love walking. But not everyone knows how beneficial physical activity is to your overall health so I wanted to share some of that evidence through this blog.

The notion of regular physical activity being good for us is not new information. In fact, more than 60 years of scientific evidence supports that engaging in regular moderate to vigorous physical activity has a wide range of health benefits, including lower risk of early death overall and prevention of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. As a result, our American Cancer Society Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.… Continue reading →

Of Tennis Shoes, Sidewalks, and Crosswalks

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

I wrote this blog in my head first, while I was on a walk. I was thinking about how fortunate I am to live in an area that I can walk – safely – for fitness and fun, for date nights and errands. But it wasn’t always that way.

My family and I used to live in a neighborhood where we could not walk to anything from our home. Besides having no stores, restaurants, schools, dry cleaners – you name it – within a reasonable walking distance, the road leading to our neighborhood was narrow, had no sidewalks, and people sped down that road with reckless abandon.

When we decided to move “in town,” we were ecstatic. I could walk or ride my bike to work, our kids could bike to school, and we could even walk to the gym to get our workouts in. We saved lots of money by not having to fill up our gas tanks so frequently. We felt less stress from not having to drive as often on traffic-packed highways and roads.  Physical, financial and quality of life benefits — all from living in an area where we could get out and walk, safely, and for multiple purposes. 

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action

All this has been on my mind because a new report is being released today: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities.… Continue reading →

When Cancer Spreads: Understanding Metastasis

By Louise Chang, MD

How does lung cancer reach other areas of my body? Why did breast cancer show up in my bones? What does it mean to have metastatic cancer?

It can be hard to understand how cancer starts in one place and also shows up in other places in the body that are far from where it started. The ability to spread, called metastasis, speaks to the aggressive nature of cancer and the challenge it poses.

Cancer starts from cells in our body that have gone rogue. The body has ways to monitor and dispose of abnormal cells that develop, but cancer cells are able to avoid the body’s defense system. They grow out of control and form into cancerous tumors.

As cancer cells multiply, they can get into the bloodstream and lymph system. This allows the cancer cells to travel and settle in other parts of the body. When cancer spreads like this, it is described as “metastatic” – because cancer cells have moved to a different location in the body. But metastatic tumors are still considered to be the same cancer type as where the cancer first started. This is why breast cancer that has spread to the bone or lungs is still breast cancer.… Continue reading →

Can Vitamin D prevent cancer?

By Marji McCullough, ScD, RD

You may be aware that Vitamin D is important for helping make strong bones. But vitamin D often appears in the media because of its potential role in a host of other health effects, from preventing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to simply living longer.  However, most of these “non-skeletal” (not having to do with your bones) roles of vitamin D are not clearly established and remain a topic of active investigation and debate. To add to the confusion, several recent scientific reviews of the vast data on vitamin D arrived at different conclusions about whether it helps prevent disease or not.

In this blog, I am going to focus on the evidence on vitamin D and cancer prevention, highlight some key unresolved questions, and give some advice to consider while we await more solid answers (which may take a while).

Where does vitamin D come from?

People can get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, from certain foods, and from supplements.

Current vitamin D recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the organization tasked with developing the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), are 600 International Units (IU) per day for most adults, and 800 IU of vitamin D per day for those over age 70.… Continue reading →

World No Tobacco Day is about Driving Down Tobacco Use

By Jeffrey Drope, PhD

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day, an important annual event when we pause to reflect on how to move the world away from tobacco use and toward improved public health.  

Tobacco is one of the leading risk factors for non-communicable diseases, including cancer – 32% of all cancer deaths in the United States, including a staggering 87% of lung cancer deaths, are attributable to tobacco use. Tobacco use is also one of the most preventable causes of cancer deaths.  

This year’s World No Tobacco Day theme is illicit trade – tobacco products produced, exported, imported, purchased, sold, or possessed illegally. While illicit trade in tobacco products is undoubtedly troubling from a number of perspectives, including lost tax revenue for governments, increased revenue to tobacco companies, and links to organized crime and possibly terrorism, it’s important to look at the whole picture. The tobacco industry consistently tries to claim that strong tobacco control policies increase illicit trade. But, in fact, the single best way to fight the illicit trade in tobacco products is to redouble efforts to use what we already know works to drive down the use of all cigarettes, legal and illegal.… Continue reading →

Recent progress in cancer research, prevention, and treatment

By Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, FACP

2014 was another banner year for cancer research, particularly in the areas of treatment, prevention, and early detection. While there were several significant spheres of progress, we find the following five major advances particularly noteworthy.   

Targeted therapies

First is the development of new targeted therapies for cancer. Targeted therapies specifically block key molecules that are crucial for cancer cell growth and survival.

The promise of such therapies was first established about 15 years ago by the development of imatinib (Gleevec), which blocks the oncogene (cancer-promoting gene) responsible for development of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), and led to dramatic responses in patients with this cancer. Many more targeted agents have since been developed. This development has been greatly helped in recent years by the sequencing of the human and the cancer genome, which has led to a more complete understanding of genes that drive cancer. 

Targeted agents have transformed modern cancer care by keeping cancer under control for longer periods of time and reducing side effects. However, for all but a handful of patients, cancer is able to develop resistance to targeted therapy over time.

A number of newer, more potent targeted therapies were developed in 2014 that further reduce side effects and help overcome resistance, at least for some time.… Continue reading →