Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Aspirin and TP53 - Letter in British Medical Journal

There's been a flurry of papers recently on the effects of aspirin in cancer prevention. Some people have raised the possibility of prescribing aspirin to the general population, or at least everybody over a certain age. However, while the argument will go on for a while, there's some parts of the population in urgent need of cancer prevention strategies. In particular, people with a defective TP53 gene or Li Fraumeni Syndrome are at incredibly high risk of developing the disease and yet no research is being carried out on active measures to stop the disease occurring.

Aspirin might or might not make a massive difference, but even if it only makes a small difference that's still positive. What we need is the research to start now. And this is the point I make in a letter published today in the British Medical Journal. The letter can be accessed online here:

This is an idea that needs to be pushed actively, and I hope to follow up with a more formal paper or article. The more we can do to kick start the research the better.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Wrong Models of Cancer - Part 2

In the first part of this article I discussed one aspect of how researchers have modelled cancer in the test tube and how this has been a factor in the slow progress in 'the war on cancer'. To recap quickly, by ignoring the evolutionary processes taking place in cancer cell lines, in petri dishes and in implanted tumours, researchers are often surprised that what works in a lab doesn’t translate to the clinic. They’ve been targeting a different type of cancer cell to the ones that affect people. A tumour is more than a blob of a single type of deranged cell. It’s an entire eco-system of  'cancer' cells, the surrounding tissue (the stroma), disordered blood vessels, immune cells and so on.

But this is not the only type of wrong model. There is another that has had equally disastrous results – and it begins with the very phrase 'the war on cancer'. This metaphor of cancer as a war reflects the belief that the only way to deal with cancer is to eradicate it completely. Cancer cells have to be destroyed once and for all, and therefore the most radical and demanding treatments are used. Our current range of cancer treatments are some of the most demanding and dangerous in medical practice. Radical surgery, toxic chemotherapy, burning with radiation… These treatments are barbaric but it’s the best we have so long as the intention is to go in and kill every single cancer cell that exists.

Monday, 7 May 2012

BBC Catches Up With

I know that's a bit of a cheeky title, but I do feel the need to point out that today's story on the BBC website: 

Curry's ability to fight cancer put to the test

is about the curcumin and chemotherapy trial that I wrote about here on the 19th December 2011:

In any case, it's a story worth keeping an eye. Of the many naturally derived substances that show anti-cancer ability, curcumin is one of the most promising, but also one of the most problematic. As a single agent it clearly doesn't have a strong enough anti-cancer action, even at high doses, so combining with other agents, like standard chemotherapy drugs, is a good strategy.

Ultimately though, I strongly suspect that it will be engineered molecules that are derived from curcumin that will make it into the clinic first. There are already different curcumin analogs showing promise in animal models - though none have made it to patient trials so far.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Osteosarcoma outcomes getting worse

As regular readers will know, my son George died from metastatic osteosarcoma just over a year ago. What struck us at the time was the fact that there were no new treatments on this horizon - and that the obvious things to try (like zoledronate, ibandronate or other bisphosphonates) weren't being trialled despite them being used in palliative care for bone metastases in other cancers.

I've also written about the awful bone cancer statistics in the UK before. Now a new study (A Meta-Analysis of Osteosarcoma Outcomes in the Modern Medical Era,  Sarcoma, 2012) looks across the board at how osteosarcoma survival statistics have changed over the last thirty years. The findings are pretty grim:
Our study confirms suspicions regarding the lack of statistical improvement in osteosarcoma survival over the last thirty years. In fact, DFS (disease free survival) at the 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year marks have shown recent decreases over the last two decades. After steep improvements up until the 1970’s, overall survival at the 5 and 10-year marks has simply plateaued with lack of statistical improvements. Similarly, recurrence rates have fluctuated in the modern era, without significant improvement. This lack of improvement is also true in subset populations like pelvic metastatic cases, with actual decreases in survival in both of these populations over the last two decades, though these decreases did not reach statistical significance.
In other words not only have things not improved, they've gone backwards.  

This stinks. If the treatments haven't changed, then what explains the decreased survival? The drugs haven't changed, so what has? It can only be the formalisation of protocols and clinical practices.

Surely this is an issue that deserves some priority - including from anticancer activists and campaigners.