Cancer Currents: An NCI Cancer Research Blog
A blog featuring news and research updates from the National Cancer Institute.
- FDA Approves Pembrolizumab for Head and Neck Cancer
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) on August 5 for the treatment of some patients with an advanced form of head and neck cancer. The approval is for patients with recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) that has continued to progress despite standard-of-care treatment with chemotherapy.
This is the third indication for which the drug has been approved. Pembrolizumab, part of a class of drugs known as immune checkpoint inhibitors, has also been approved to treat some patients with advanced melanoma and lung cancer.
- Nanoparticle that Mimics Salmonella Counteracts Chemotherapy Resistance
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have designed a nanoparticle that mimics the bacterium Salmonella and may help to counteract a major mechanism of chemotherapy resistance.
Working with mouse models of colon and breast cancer, Beth McCormick, Ph.D., and her colleagues demonstrated that when combined with chemotherapy, the nanoparticle reduced tumor growth substantially more than chemotherapy alone.
- CA-125 Testing, CT Scans Still Used for Ovarian Cancer Surveillance Despite Lack of Proven Benefit
Despite evidence of no benefit from a 2009 randomized clinical trial, a new study shows that doctors appear to still routinely use the CA-125 blood test to monitor women for recurrent ovarian cancer. The findings, published July 21 in JAMA Oncology, also suggest that computed tomography (CT) scans continue to be routinely used to check for recurrences even though clinical practice guidelines discourage this practice.
Many women who are in remission after treatment for ovarian cancer will eventually have a recurrence of the disease. One approach doctors have used to monitor patients for a recurrence and make decisions about care is regular blood testing to look for a rise in levels of CA-125, a protein that may be found in high amounts in women with ovarian cancer. However, results of a randomized, phase III clinical trial reported at a national conference in 2009 and published in 2010 showed that CA-125 testing for early detection of recurrent disease increased the use of chemotherapy and decreased patients’ quality of life without improving overall survival.
- Adolescents Who Wouldn’t Have Smoked May Be Drawn to E-Cigarettes
Some adolescents who otherwise would never have smoked are using e-cigarettes, according to a study published July 11 in the journal Pediatrics. The findings suggest that adolescents are not just using e-cigarettes as a substitute for conventional cigarettes but that e-cigarettes are attracting new users to tobacco products.
E-cigarettes are electronic devices that create an aerosol by heating a liquid solution that often contains nicotine and flavorings, as well as other chemicals. They allow users to simulate smoking conventional cigarettes by inhaling the aerosol, which mimics combustible cigarette smoking. The Food and Drug Administration recently finalized a rule extending its regulation of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes. The rule went into effect this week.
- Mutations Linked to Immunotherapy Resistance
For many patients with melanoma whose tumors shrink after treatment with a class of immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, their tumors eventually grow back despite continued treatment. A new study has identified genetic mechanisms that may be responsible for this acquired treatment resistance in at least some of these patients.
The researchers found mutations in tumors from three patients with advanced melanoma that allowed the tumors to become resistant to the immune checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab (Keytruda®). Specifically, the mutations enabled the tumors to avoid recognition and attack by immune cells.
- Nanoparticle Delivers Cancer Drugs to Tumor Blood Vessels
In a set of studies in mice bearing human tumors, nanoparticles designed to bind to a protein called P-selectin successfully delivered both chemotherapy drugs and targeted therapies to tumor blood vessels. Targeting the blood vessels improved the delivery of drugs to tumor tissue, causing the tumors to shrink and improving how long the mice lived.
A tumor’s blood vessels can serve as a barrier to engineered drug-delivery systems like nanoparticles, which may not be able to cross the blood vessel wall. However, the same blood vessels may express proteins—such as P-selectin—that researchers can potentially exploit, by engineering their nanoparticles to recognize and latch onto those proteins, which enables them to reach the tumor.
- Partner-Aided Skin Exams Increase Early Detection of New Melanomas
People who have previously been treated for melanoma—and are therefore at high risk for developing a second melanoma—can team up with a spouse, family member, or a friend and be trained to find new melanomas successfully, a new clinical trial showed.
In the trial, patients and their skin-check partners who received training in how to find and track suspicious moles over time found substantially more early-stage melanomas than pairs who only received reminders from their doctors to perform regular skin self-examinations.
- Inherited Mutations in DNA-Repair Genes Found in Advanced Prostate Cancers
Nearly 12% of men with advanced prostate cancer have inherited mutations in genes that play a role in repairing damaged DNA, according to a new study. Inherited mutations in DNA-repair genes—including BRCA2, ATM, and CHEK2—are associated with an increased risk of several other cancers, including breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.
“This finding offers a new window into understanding how metastatic prostate cancers develop,” said Peter Nelson, M.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who co-led the study.
- Olanzapine Helps Prevent Nausea and Vomiting Caused by Chemotherapy
A drug currently used to treat several psychiatric conditions can help prevent nausea and vomiting in patients receiving chemotherapy, according to results from a large NCI-funded phase III clinical trial.
Patients in the trial were being treated with chemotherapy agents that often cause substantial nausea and vomiting. Those who were randomly assigned to receive the drug olanzapine (Zyprexa®), given in combination with three standard antiemetic agents (drugs that help prevent nausea and vomiting), were far less likely to experience nausea, have vomiting episodes, or need “rescue” anti-nausea medications to treat nausea/vomiting than patients who received a placebo plus the three antiemetic drugs.
- Anthrax Toxin-Based Cancer Therapy Targets Tumor Blood Vessels
Armed with a greater understanding of the detailed structure and function of the deadly anthrax toxin, scientists have engineered components of the toxin as a potential therapy for solid cancers.
Now, NIH scientists developing the toxin-based therapy have shown that it works by selectively targeting and inhibiting proliferation of cells that line the inside wall of blood vessels that feed tumors and support their growth and spread. When given in combination with two drugs that can block the production of antibodies against the toxin, the treatment greatly suppressed tumor growth in mouse models of lung cancer and melanoma, the researchers reported June 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- 3-D View of Mutations May Identify Potential Targets for Cancer Drugs
A new computational tool may help expand the known number of mutations in cancer cells that could be targeted with new or existing drugs.
Researchers recently reported that the tool, called HotSpot3D, allowed them to model how genetic mutations change the ways proteins function and interact with each other to potentially drive cancer. It also helped them identify more than 800 novel mutations that potentially could be targeted with existing drugs.
- Study Forecasts ‘Silver Tsunami’ of Cancer Survivors
The aging of the U.S. population will result in a substantial increase in the number of older cancer survivors over the next quarter century, particularly those 85 and older, according to a new study by NCI researchers.
Using statistical models to analyze population data, the researchers estimated that the overall number of cancer survivors in the United States will continue to grow substantially. But the proportion of survivors who are aged 65 or older will grow the most, with this group representing nearly three-quarters of cancer survivors by 2040, the researchers reported in a study published July 1 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
- Mouse Study Illuminates the Spread of Breast Cancer to Bone
By tracking the spread of breast cancer cells in mice, researchers have identified two proteins that may regulate the movement of breast cancer cells into and out of bone marrow.
A protein called E-selectin may allow breast cancer cells to enter certain regions of the bone marrow, and another protein, CXCR4, may help breast cancer cells remain within the bone, according to the study results.
- Setting the Stage for the Next Decade of Tobacco Control Research
One of the biggest dangers we face in public health is prematurely declaring victory over a major health threat. Nowhere is that more true than in the case of tobacco use.
Smoking rates have dropped precipitously over the past several decades—a monumental achievement that resulted from implementing evidence based policies and programs, such as increasing tobacco taxes, implementing comprehensive smoke-free laws, and efforts to help smokers to quit.
- The Cancer Moonshot Summit: Reaching New Heights
Yesterday, I attended the Cancer Moonshot Summit, hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, held at Howard University in Washington, DC. In addition to this Summit, there were more than 250 regional summits happening simultaneously, making this truly a national event.
The summits were an opportunity for the Vice President to speak directly to the American public and ask them to “convene under the national charge of doubling the rate of progress toward ending cancer as we know it.”
- Prognosis Discussions Improve Understanding of Illness for Patients with Terminal Cancer
New study results show that many patients with advanced, incurable cancer have a poor understanding of their prognosis or life expectancy. Fewer than one in four patients in the study reported having a recent discussion about prognosis with their oncologist, although those who did were more likely to understand the serious nature of their illness, the study showed.
“To our knowledge, our study is the first to directly address and demonstrate these associations between the timing of patient-reported prognostic discussions and improvements in illness understanding by patients,” the study authors wrote in a paper published May 23 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
- The Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel: Moving Toward a Final Report
I hope that, by now, most in the cancer community have seen Vice President Biden’s address at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It was an inspiring presentation, with the Vice President highlighting the launch of the Genomic Data Commons and emphasizing the essential role the research community will play in achieving the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative’s goals.
I’d like to give you an update on other things that have happened with this important initiative since my last post in Cancer Currents, but let me just preface this by saying that it’s been anything but business as usual for NCI.
- Extended Adjuvant Therapy Beneficial for Some Women with Breast Cancer
Results from a recent clinical trial showed that extending adjuvant therapy with an aromatase inhibitor to 10 years after initial treatment can have important benefits for postmenopausal women with early-stage hormone receptor (HR)–positive breast cancer. The longer treatment improved 5-year disease-free survival and decreased the women’s risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast, called contralateral breast cancer.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on June 5 and presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago.