Cancer Research

By Katy Bell, University of Sydney; Alexandra Barratt, University of Sydney, and Andrew Hayen, UNSW Australia

Cancer screening is beneficial when it’s able to prevent people dying from cancer. And it should clearly be adopted where there’s evidence showing this. But using cancer survival rates to promote screening, as is often done, is misleading.

An analysis of Danish women of reproductive age suggests that long-term use of hormonal contraceptives is associated with an increased risk of brain tumors.

 Hormonal contraceptives, commonly called "the pill" in oral contraceptive, contain female sex hormones and are commonly referenced as the foundation of the "sexual revolution" in the 1960s because widespread usage has given women all over the world control over childbearing.
We've all seen athletes on the sidelines of a football game with a mask over their mouths inhaling oxygen. It may seem odd that anyone stands around for 60 seconds, moves for 10 and then has to go sit on a bunch with an oxygen tank but oxygen is life, and the belief is greater oxygen in the blood will mean greater athletic performance.

It may also mean more lung cancer, is it said. Why? People at higher elevations get less respiratory cancer than people at lower ones, for other cancers it is no different. Is that just epidemiology scrambling for curves to match again or is there something to it? Will boosting metabolism that way also boost the rates of cancer?

Many cancer survivors face physical and mental challenges, such as sexual dysfunction or anxiety about getting cancer again or financial hardships, even decades after the treatment is ended.  

Finding ways to help will become increasingly important because more cancer patients are living many years after treatment. The number of U.S. survivors is expected to top 19 million by 2024. While most survivors do well after treatment, some experience continuing problems that can significantly impair their quality of life well beyond the 5-year survival milestone. The problems and challenges can vary by the type of cancer patients had and the treatments they received. 


Can cancer biopsies spread more cancer? Some patients, and a few doctors think so. 

Fine needle aspiration is a minimally invasive technique that uses a thin and hollow needle to extract a few cells from a tumor mass. Some contend that a biopsy can cause some cancer cells to spread and it has become a strongly-held belief, but is it true?

It came about because some people who got biopsies did have cancer spread but it was so rare that answers were difficult to find. A recent study of more than 2,000 patients by researchers at Mayo Clinics concludes it is a myth and that patients who received a biopsy had a better outcome and longer survival than patients who did not have a biopsy.

Researchers have identified mutations which occur at four specific sites in what is known as the "hTERT promoter" in more than 75 percent of glioblastomas and melanomas.  

Telomerase is an enzyme largely responsible for the promotion of cell division. Within DNA, telomerase activation is a critical step for human carcinogenesis through the maintenance of telomeres. However, the activation mechanism during carcinogenesis - why cancer gets turned "on" - is not yet wholly understood. What is known is that transcriptional regulation of the human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) gene is the major mechanism for cancer-specific activation of telomerase.


Older men with locally advanced prostate cancer benefit by adding radiation treatment to hormone therapy versus hormone therapy alone, according to a new study which found that hormone therapy plus radiation reduced cancer deaths by nearly 50 percent in men aged 76 to 85 compared to men who only received hormone therapy.

Past studies have shown that 40 percent of men with aggressive prostate cancers are treated with hormone therapy alone, exposing a large gap in curative cancer care among "Baby Boomers" as they approach their their 70s. 


The gene TRK was shown to cause a small percentage of colon cancers in 1982 and then in 2013 and 2014, sequencing of tumor samples found fusions of the TRK family of genes in at least 11 tumor types, including lung, breast and melanoma . 

The TRK family of genes, including NTRK1, NTRK2 and NTRK3 are important in the developing nervous system. In the womb, these genes and the proteins they encode are essential for the growth and survival of new neurons. After birth, these genes are unneeded in many tissues and so are programmed to go dormant.

Some cancers wake them up - when improperly fused with other nearby genes, genes in the TRK family can restart their ability to signal cells to grow and become immortal, which in adult tissues can cause cancer.


There is no question there are genetic and environmental components to cancer but a statistical model that measures the proportion of cancer incidence across many tissue types finds that cancer is caused mainly by random mutations that occur when stem cells divide.

According to scientists from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, two-thirds of adult cancer incidence across tissues can be explained primarily by "bad luck," when these random mutations occur in genes that can drive cancer growth, while the remaining third are due to environmental factors and inherited genes.

The implications of their model range from altering public perception about cancer risk factors to the funding of cancer research, they say.