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Prostate cancer ‘cured’ with immunotherapy


*New blood test can detect 10 different types of tumour years before someone gets ill
*Drinking baking soda help eliminate disease by reaching malignant cells with drugs
*Soaps, Colgate toothpastes chemical alters gut bacteria, raises risk of bowel illness
*WHO warns material used in plastic packaging, disposable cups is carcinogenic

Scores of men with the most lethal form of prostate cancer have been ‘brought back from the brink of death’ by a drug found to work where all others have failed in a groundbreaking British-led trial.

Some patients whose bodies were riddled with cancer have had ‘Lazarus-like’ recoveries – and now show no visible signs of disease 18 months or more later, according to the doctor leading research into the treatment.

The medication, called pembrolizumab, is a type of immunotherapy that harnesses the body’s immune system to seek out and destroy tumour cells. It has already been shown to be highly effective in tackling other forms of the disease, including skin and lung cancer.

Now, a new study led by The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London has found ‘amazing’ results in those with prostate cancer.

The trial looked at 258 men who had undergone numerous other treatments, including surgery, hormonal drugs and chemotherapy, to no avail. In many of them, the cancer had spread to their bones; usually a sign there is no more hope.

But according to results presented in detail yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago, more than a third of those treated with pembrolizumab were still alive after a year. And one in ten were still actively benefiting from treatment.

Researchers found those with the best response had types of prostate cancer with ‘ultra-mutant cancer cells’ which change their genetic make-up quickly. Among these types are those linked to the BRCA gene, the mutation carried by actress Angelina Jolie, which is best known for raising the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Also, a blood test that can detect 10 types of cancer potentially years before someone becomes ill has been described as the ‘holy grail’ of cancer research.

Scientists in the United States (US) have found a simple test can pick up early signs of cancers including breast, ovarian, bowel and lung cancer.

It works by picking up fragments of Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material released into the blood by fast-growing cancer cells.

In a study of more than 1,400 people, the triple test achieved up to 90 per cent accuracy.

Among four cancer-free people who tested positive, the US authors say two women were diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancer just months later.

The authors, led by Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, will present their findings at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, and hope the test could be available within five to 10 years for healthy people who are cancer-free.

Also, a study has found that baking soda could help fight cancer by making cells easier to target.

Drinking the powder dissolved in water could make cells inside a tumour more active and easier for chemotherapy drugs to kill, according to researchers.

As a tumour grows bigger it cuts off the blood supply of cells inside it, causing them to effectively shut down and hide away.

Baking soda, however, could trick them into acting normally and becoming an easier target for chemotherapy drugs, which target active cells.

United States (US) scientists at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research hope their findings could pave the way for a cheap but effective boost for cancer treatment.

“The concept is so easy,” says study author Chi Van Dang. “It’s not some $100,000 per year drug. It’s literally just baking soda.”

The study looked at breast and colon cancer tumours in mice, and showed drinking water with baking soda boosted cell activity in tumours where there had been less activity before.

Because the cells are more active when baking soda – also known as bicarbonate of soda – is consumed, in theory they are more susceptible to cancer therapies.

Chemotherapy and immunotherapy may therefore be able to target more of the tumour, including dormant cells, which cause the disease to come back.

How baking soda weakens tumours: The ability of baking soda to neutralise acids is key to the success of Dr. Van Dang’s research.

In solid tumours large numbers of cells have their oxygen supplies cut off – a condition called hypoxia – which causes their pH level to drop and they become acidic.

When this happens the cells stop working properly – they stop producing proteins and their metabolism and body clock is disrupted, so they become inactive, or dormant.

The findings – published Friday in the science journal Cell – are important because dormant cells cannot typically be killed by chemotherapy.

The team also found that activation of T cells – a type of white blood cell – which is essential to most immunotherapies, is also reduced by acidity.

Also, scientists fear an ‘unavoidable’ chemical used in soap and Colgate toothpaste may boost the risk of bowel cancer.

Trials on mice revealed triclosan might lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by altering their gut microbiota.

IBD – the umbrella term for the agonising colitis and Crohn’s disease – is a known risk factor of deadly bowel cancer.

Triclosan triggered inflammation in the colons of mice – a cause of both conditions, according to University of Massachusetts Amherst scientists.

The trial gives the first evidence that triclosan – which is not banned in the UK but is banned in some products in the US – can have adverse effects on gut health.

Doctors Friday called for ‘urgent’ investigations to determine the health effects of the ingredient because it is still so widely used.

The chemical can be detected in 75 per cent of urine samples, according to the results of a recent US Government survey.

The US Food and Drug Administration officials banned the use of triclosan in soap and body washes two years ago. No such ban exists in the UK. They declared antibacterial soaps containing triclosan were no more effective than hot water and regular soap at killing bugs.

However, it can still be found in more than 2,000 products, including toothpastes – such as Colgate Total – and even children’s toys.

Animal studies have shown triclosan can potentially alter hormone systems in both men and women and led to miscarriages in female rats.

The new experiment, published in Science Translational Medicine, adds to a body of emerging evidence that shows it can damage gut health.

Mice were exposed to low amounts of triclosan for a short period of time before they were analysed by researchers.

Scans revealed the ingredient caused them low-grade colonic inflammation and worsened colitis – one form of IBD.

Further inspections showed it also exaggerated colitis-associated colon cancer.

Senior author of the study, Dr. Guodong Zhang, said: “These results, for the first time, suggest triclosan could have adverse effects on gut health.”

Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned plastic packaging, disposable cups and rubber contain a chemical, which probably gives people cancer.

The WHO has upgraded styrene, which is used to make latex, synthetic rubber and polystyrene resins –which make disposable plastic packing – to ‘probably carcinogenic for humans’.

The chemical had spent 40 years classified as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ – cancer causing – but was this week given a more dangerous status.

Research reveals people exposed to styrene at work have double the risk of getting leukaemia, and a five times higher risk of a certain type of nasal cancer.

The average person is most likely to come into contact with styrene in polluted air, or possibly from printers, photocopiers or cigarette smoke.

Experts say that although work environments with a risk of styrene exposure have improved in Denmark, where the research was done, it is still a global problem.

The research was commissioned by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an expert branch of the WHO, and the main organisation will now issue its warning to countries worldwide.

IARC research looked at the records of more than 70,000 people who worked in the Danish plastics industry between 1968 and 2011.

In what is the biggest study of its kind the team also reviewed evidence from animal studies on the risks of being exposed to styrene.

Professor Henrik Kolstad of Aarhus University in Denmark said: “The most recent styrene study shows the risk of acute myeloid leukaemia, a rare form of leukaemia, is doubled.

“Out of the more than 70,000 people included in the research project, we found 25 cases of acute myeloid leukaemia, where you would statistically expect to find 10.”

Research also found a fivefold increase in the risk of sinonasal adenocarcinoma – nasal cancer – among those who are exposed to styrene in the plastic industry.

Styrene is included in synthetic rubber, some insulation materials, disposable cutlery, plastic packaging and fiberglass plastic.

It is possible people may consume small amounts of the chemical if it gets into food in polystyrene containers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The IARC says exploring a possible link between styrene and cancer has been a priority since the 1970s when Americans working in the synthetic rubber industry had an unusual number of leukaemia cases.

However, scientists could not tell whether the workers contracted leukaemia from handling styrene or from butadiene, a chemical used alongside it to make rubber.

So researchers looked at records of 456 Danish companies that used styrene, but not butadiene, to make reinforced plastics, such as companies making wind turbines and yachts, which contain fibreglass.

Meanwhile, world-leading prostate cancer expert Professor Johann de Bono, of the Institute for Cancer Research, said: “We hope for a cure but we can’t call it that yet. However, many of the men who were at death’s door have been on the drug for more than 18 months and show no signs of the disease.”

Such patients had experienced “an amazing response”, he said. “Some of the patients on this trial are like Lazarus – they were dying of advanced disease. Some were almost too unwell to have any treatment at all and they have been resurrected.”

Pembrolizumab, also known by its brand name Keytruda, is one of a new class of drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors”.

Prof de Bono said the drug was “well tolerated” by patients ‘with relatively few severe side effects’. He added: “The next stage is to try and develop tests to help us better identify which patients will benefit most.”

Prostate expert, Dr. David Graham, at Levine Cancer Institute, North Carolina, said: “These men have the most aggressive type of disease and have been through the gamut of what we have available now. These findings show the glimmer of promise for them.”


Further trials will be needed before the drug, already licensed for certain types of skin cancer, lung cancer and lymphoma, is approved for routine clinical use in prostate cancer. It will then have to be assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to see if it is cost-effective enough for prostate British National Health Service (NHS) cancer patients to receive it.

That is not a given, as a course of treatment in other cancers typically costs tens of thousands of pounds per patient.

The news comes as a major new study reveals that a simple blood test carried out in the General Practitioner (GP’s) surgery could detect up to half of deadly lung cancers in the earliest stages.

Experts say the findings should pave the way for routine screening for heavy smokers and others at high risk of lung cancer.

Despite falling smoking rates, lung cancer is still Britain’s biggest cancer killer, claiming 35,000 lives every year.

But now results from the ongoing Circulating Cell-Free Genome Atlas study, also presented at ASCO, offer hope of much earlier diagnosis – and so better survival. Researchers looked at the ability of three different blood tests looking for free-floating Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA) to detect cancer.

The tests picked up almost 90 per cent of late-stage cancers. More excitingly, it identified up to 50 per cent of early-stage tumours too.

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