Blog Archives - NFCR


Researchers Develop Antibody to Fight Colorectal Cancer

Fight Colorectal CancerPresident Bill Clinton declared March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in 2000, highlighting a disease that represents eight percent of all new cancers diagnosed yearly and, out of the estimated 135,430 people who developed it just last year, caused an estimated 50,260 deaths in the United States alone. As outlined in a February 2018 report, a team of researchers working at Yale University engineered an antibody that blocks the growth of colorectal cancer models. If the findings successfully move on to clinical trials in human patients, a powerful new tool in the fight against colorectal and other cancers will have been established.

The research concerns two proteins, DKK2 and Wnt. Wnt proteins, in fact, form a huge “family” responsible for signaling the developmental and biological development of cells. However, under certain conditions, scientists have come to realize that the signals coming from Wnt directly affect the development of cancer, although the mechanics of how was not understood.

“We found that this Wnt inhibitor, DKK2, which was thought to inhibit tumor formation, promoted tumors through suppression of tumor immunity,” said Dianqing Wu, senior study author and professor of pharmacology at the Yale School of Medicine. He adds, “If you inactivate, or neutralize, or blockade this inhibitor, it causes reduction of tumor formation through activation of the host’s immune system.”

Colorectal cancers are notorious for developing resistance to immunotherapies designed to trigger the patient’s own immune system into fighting tumors more aggressively, suggesting to the Yale researchers the presence of an unidentified agent acting behind the scenes, which led to the focus on DKK2. The Yale team then went about “inhibiting the inhibitor.” Wu explains how, in order to explore the role of DKK2 (short for Dickkopf-related protein 2) in cancer, researchers crossbred a mouse model of colorectal cancer with mice lacking the protein. The resulting offspring had fewer and smaller tumors.

Genetic or antibody-mediated ablation of DKK2 has been shown to potentially activate the natural killer cells of a patient’s immune system, specifically CD8+ T cells (the body’s in-built cancer killers); impede tumor progression; and enhance the effects of the PD-1 blockade, which can restore immune function within the tumor. Anti-DKK2 antibody treatment could prove a boon for medical scientists facing cancers that become resistant to immunotherapies designed to trigger the patient’s own immune system into fighting tumors more aggressively.

Another uptick is that the anti-DKK2 antibody could prove a boon for medical scientists facing other cancers that become drug-resistant. Wu and his colleagues note that in addition to colorectal cancer suppression, the antibody may also be effective in blocking the growth of certain melanomas when combined with standing immunotherapies.

The findings appear in the Nature Medicine scientific journal.


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Eating for Cancer Prevention

We’ve all heard about the importance of healthy eating and living for longevity, but how influential is it for cancer, specifically? Are diet and lifestyle influential enough to significantly reduce cancer formation and progression?

The answer is “yes!”

Approximately 30-40% of cancer diagnoses could be prevented by modest diet and lifestyle changes. This number increases to 90% for certain cancers, like stomach cancer. In 2017 alone, 675,512 cancer diagnoses could have been avoided!  Healthy eating is important, especially as it related to cancer. And in recognition of National Nutrition Month, this National Foundation for Cancer Research blog post will offer a deeper look into the science of this important correlation. 

Carcinogens in Food

Nutrition interacts with cancer development in many important ways. The first is through the potential introduction of carcinogenic (cancer causing) materials into the body. If carcinogenic materials are introduced into the body, these will by definition increase cancer risk. These chemicals can be thought of as toxic; their very presence is inherently contradictory to health. But there are still multiple possibly carcinogenic materials which are not yet banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many of these are added chemicals or “additives” that are used to preserve food, alter the foods texture, or change the foods appearance.

A simple way to avoid these chemicals (without carrying around a big list) is to refrain from, or minimize, eating processed foods with ingredients that you don’t recognize or that you know aren’t whole-food based. Many times foods such as these are of low quality. They are generally low in healthy micronutrients and more refined, so the nutrients they do have are less bioavailable (nutrients aren’t able to be integrated into the body). They are also hyper-palatable so that the reward centers in the brain are extremely active during consumption, which leads to overindulgence.  Perhaps most importantly, these foods can be embedded with potentially toxic materials. Specific compounds to steer clear from are nitrates/nitrites, carrageenan, and BHA/BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole / butylated hydroxytoluene). These have all been shown to have carcinogenic properties.

Carcinogens in Digestion & Cooking

Some foods and drinks have materials in them that aren’t carcinogenic themselves but can produce carcinogenic materials during their cooking process, breakdown or detoxification. In other words, as the body processes these materials or as they’re prepared, intermediate materials are produced which are carcinogenic.

Alcohol is one such substance that can have a carcinogenic effect on the body.  Alcohol is broken down in the liver to produce a metabolite called acetaldehyde, which is considered a definite carcinogen.  Acetaldehyde is genotoxic, which means that it damages the genetic material of the cell, increasing the likelihood of mutations.

The second common potentially carcinogenic food is red meat. While there is interest in looking at the inherent carcinogenic qualities of red meat, research is not yet conclusive on this matter. For this reason, red meat is currently classified as a probable carcinogen. However, when meat is cooked at high temperatures, many known carcinogens are produced. These include heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and acrylamide. These products help create some of the aroma and browning associated with cooked meat. Although tasty, these certainly do contribute to cancer; especially colorectal cancer. It is therefore much better to consume a reduced amount of red meat and cook red meat that is consumed at lower temperatures.

Cancer-Fighting Foods

Luckily, eating healthy isn’t all about avoiding foods! It’s also important to include nourishing foods with anti-cancer properties. Some of these properties include antioxidant status and micronutrient density. Antioxidants are chemicals which oppose free radicals (compounds which react uncontrollably with oxygen) by stabilizing the cell. Micronutrient density has to do with the amount of vitamins and minerals within foods. Each vitamin and mineral plays an integral role in the healthy functioning of various body tissues. Important anti-cancer micro nutrients include calcium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin K2, vitamin D, vitamin C and the B vitamins—with are loaded with folates. Fruits and vegetables are both incredibly important to ensure that antioxidant and micronutrient status are good. Fruits and vegetables are also important for their inherent fiber which has been proven to help reduce certain cancers.

Energy Balance

Another important consideration in eating for cancer prevention is energy balance. The best condition for our physical health is one where we are only consuming the calories that we need to function well. This is helpful because it can reduce the burden of digestion, detoxification and unnecessary hormonal influence.

If we don’t need the energy, why stress our bodies out more by consuming it? Such just forces our bodies to have to adjust functioning and find a place to store the excess? In addition, the added hormonal, structural, and metabolic stress of carrying extra weight can significantly influence our overall health. Obesity is a major risk factor for cancer. In fact, 20% of cancers could be avoided by reducing obesity. Eating based on our needs can help us reduce waste, externally and internally. It fosters a healthy connection of our minds to our health needs and allows us to build mindfulness into our daily lives.

In Sum

There are many different components of eating for cancer prevention. Not only is it beneficial to minimizing outright carcinogen ingestion, but we also want to be aware of carcinogens which emerge as a result of cooking or detoxification.  Once we reduce the intake of these foods, we then want to increase fruits and vegetables due to their antioxidant qualities, micronutrient density and intrinsic fiber. Finally, it’s important to be aware of balancing energy demand with energy consumption. The overall goal is to eat food which can support our bodies healthy functioning and reduce our overall stress.


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Safeway Foundation Grant Designated

Safeway NFCR Paul Fisher collaboration

The Safeway Foundation provided the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) a $50,000 grant to support innovative oncology research. The donation has been designated to NFCR Fellow Paul B. Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. The funds from The Safeway Foundation are being used to help sustain Dr. Fisher’s research on enhancing his promising immunotherapy for metastatic prostate and other cancers: the aptly named Cancer Terminator Virus.

Dr. Fisher’s cutting edge technology has been shown to produce profound anti-cancer activity in slowing or halting metastatic—spreading—cancer, which is responsible for 90% of the lives lost to the disease.

Last year, Albertsons Companies Foundation and its 12 subsidiaries, including the Safeway Foundation, donated more than $18 million to improve the quality of life of their customers and the communities they serve.

“We are grateful to the Safeway Foundation for their generous support to help us fund the research for treatments against one of the deadliest elements of cancer,” said NFCR CEO Franklin C. Salisbury, Jr. “Thank you, Safeway, for joining Research for a Cure!”


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Kidney Cancer Intervention & Prevention

Kidney Cancer Awareness Month

This month is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, and March 8, is World Kidney Day. In this National Foundation for Cancer Research blog post, we will look at recent scientific advances in the battle against the most common form of the disease: Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC).

In 2018, just under 64,000 people will be diagnosed with kidney cancer in the United States. This staggering statistic places kidney cancer as one of the top 10 common cancers in the U.S. Luckily, we are starting to see groundbreaking medical intervention strategies for people suffering from RCC, its most prevalent iteration. We are also now able to identify major lifestyle approaches for RCC and other cancer risk mitigation efforts.


Emerging research coming out of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center has people in the RCC community excited. This research shows promising antitumor results with combining immunotherapy agents with anti-angiogenesis agents without adverse effects. This approach has been taken before but with much less success, due to the toxicities which developed from the combined treatments. However, the combination of axitinib (Inlyta) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) has now shown significant antitumor results in people with advanced kidney (also known as renal) cancers, without the toxicities that were previously experienced.

Kidney Cancer InterventionAxitinib is a small molecule tyrosine-kinase inhibitor which inhibits a protein growth factor that is crucial for the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). This helps shrink tumors by reducing their nutrient supply through the bloodstream. Pembrolizumab is an antibody which binds to our immune cells and allows them to better recognize cancer cells as “foreign” and pathogenic. Often times, cancer cells have proteins which block our immune system cell’s recognition of cancer cells as pathological. With this immunotherapy agent, the immune system can identify and attack cancer cells more effectively. These two drugs combined are proving to be safer, more effective and better tolerated for people with advanced kidney cancers. New immunotherapy agent and anti-angiogenesis agents, including atezolizumab and bevacizumab, are also being actively researched.

The current standard treatment option for patients with early detected lung cancer and comorbidities (other medical conditions), has now been proven to be effective and safe for those with RCC. This treatment is stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR). Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a highly focused radiation treatment that gives an intense dose of radiation concentrated on a tumor, while limiting the dose to the surrounding organs. The recent research in the use of this treatment towards RCC has provided important information showing that it is effective, safe, well-tolerated and can preserve kidney function.

Kidney Cancer Prevention

Although treatments for kidney cancer are swiftly progressing, it is still of great importance to focus on prevention. The major risk factors for kidney cancer are smoking, obesity and high-blood pressure. Interestingly, there is a question of if antihypertensive medications (which reduce blood pressure) may actually be a risk factor for kidney cancer. The evidence is polarized and inconclusive in this area. Regardless, it is advised to address these three areas of health with a holistic approach. Finding the time to exercise, reducing stress, improving diet and taking the necessary steps to quit smoking will not only increase quality of life but also significantly reduce the likelihood of getting many different cancers, including RCC.

It is advised to set small, manageable goals which can build on themselves. These may include simply eating a banana four times a week or contacting a professional about quitting smoking.  Continue to read more NFCR blog posts to learn more about healthy living and cancer prevention.




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Genomic Computational Mapping and Nutritional Supplementation in Multiple Myeloma

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma (MM) is a bone marrow cancer that affects plasma cells. Bone marrow is the soft and spongy tissue which resides in the cavities of many of our bones. It is rich in cells which produce new blood cells. On average, 500 billion new blood cells are produced each day within the bone marrow. These cells can be categorized as either lymphoid (producing lymph cells) or myeloid (producing red blood cells, white blood cells (including plasma cells) and plasma). Normally, plasma cells work as part of the immune system to produce antibodies which can recognize and neutralize pathogens; but in MM, these cells become cancerous and grow out of control, leading to multiple painful bone tumors, as well as anemia, kidney failure and recurrent infections. MM relapse rates are quite high because of the inherent challenge of immunosuppression, given that the immune system itself is directly compromised. As a result, immunology has been a major focus of new treatment methods.

Predictive Computational Mapping

Standard treatments for MM include chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplants. With this being said, there has been an explosion of treatments for MM within the last 5 years. These include immunomodulatory agents, proteasome inhibitors, CAR T-cell therapy, steroids, alkylators and antibodies. Although very exciting and hopeful, this plethora of newly approved treatments has presented a new problem: what should be used and for whom, when should it be used and with what combination should it be used? The relevance of these questions is extremely pertinent in MM because there is a wide variety of person to person variability leading to significant variations in treatment effectiveness and cost (health and financial). This newly presented problem has ramped up research efforts in predictive computational mapping, which aims to predict treatment outcome based on various biomarkers.

Professionals are now able to effectively predict how each patient will respond to different treatment methods for MM. This ground-breaking discovery is capable of changing the face of MM intervention by increasing patient outcomes and improving the understanding of the mechanisms behind treatment failure. This predictive computational mapping is achieved through genomic database information calculations. These calculations can look at the various drug interactions and their impact on the cell signaling and metabolism of many different MM phenotypes. The phenotypes of patient’s tumors are determined through tumor biopsies. This information is then entered into the computational modelling system where a variety of drug interactions and doses can be tested to see what specific modulating chemicals will most effectively target the specific form of MM which is present. 

Nutritional Supplementation

MM is still considered an incurable disease.  As a result, scientists and medical professionals are quite open to holistic intervention strategies. Luckily, two nutrients have been shown to be effective in reducing myelomas by promoting cancer cell death. These two nutrients are curcumin and vitamin K2. Curcumin is a well-known anti-inflammatory chemical that is naturally occurring in foods such as turmeric. Curcumin has an interaction with the MCL-1 gene and protein. This protein encoded by the gene plays a role in limiting cellular apoptosis or “programmed cell death” which normally occurs when mutation or damage has occurred within a cell. The upregulation of MCL-1 activity is involved in cancer progression and life-maintenance. Curcumin has the ability to downregulate this protein and therefore, support cancer cell death. Curcumin is, however, not very bioavailable when taken orally. The water-soluble chemical can easily be degraded by stomach acid and absorption can be a problem. As a result, it’s advised to take curcumin in the liposomal micelle form which is over 200x more absorptive.

Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble quinone-based chemical with many import biological functions including supporting normal tissue calcium distribution, cellular metabolism and normal clotting. Like curcumin, vitamin K2 increases cancer cell apoptosis. It does so by changing the expression of various signaling proteins within the cell. Ultimately, the cell becomes less likely to divide and more likely to spontaneously die if mutated. Vitamin K2 is found in green leafy vegetables, onions, cabbage, broccoli, prunes and other natural foods. It can also be taken with supplement.

Both vitamin K2 and curcumin can be complementary additions to traditional medical intervention for MM or as a part of prevention strategies. With this being said, please consult with your doctor before taking new supplements to ensure they are safe for you.


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Study Better Predicts Stomach Cancer

Although stomach (AKA gastric) cancer is the third deadliest cancer in the world, claiming an estimated 10,960 lives in the United States alone in 2017, it remains one of the more difficult cancers to notice and detect. Indeed, more than two-thirds of patients are diagnosed only after the disease is at an advanced stage. A recent study out of Singapore, hailed as “landmark,” offers the potential to develop more effective screening for stomach cancer, enabling timely and better early-stage treatments.

The study focuses on a known risk factor for stomach cancer called intestinal metaplasia (IM). Patients with IM are six times more likely to develop stomach cancer than those without. The Singaporean team, composed of researchers from the National University Health System (NUHS) and the Duke University-National University of Singapore (Duke-NUS) Medical School, has used genomic technologies to better understand the pre-cancer role of IM, as well as that of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is also linked to the condition.

“Previous genetic studies on IM have mainly focused on patients who were already diagnosed with stomach cancer. But these are limited in their ability to predict who are likely to develop the disease and how the disease will progress,” said Professor Patrick Tan, co-lead investigator and a Duke-NUS Medical School professor. “This new study is the first to comprehensively map out the genetic changes in IM in a cohort of stomach cancer-free subjects, which helps us better predict the possible occurrence and progression of the disease.”

Although showing signs of decline in medically advanced nations, stomach cancer is notorious in medical circles for being particularly hard to detect before it enters the metastatic stage. If the cancer is diagnosed and treated before it has spread outside the stomach, the five-year survival rate is 67%. From there, the statistics become grimmer. If the cancer spreads to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 31%. If the cancer spreads to a distant part of the body, the five-year survival rate plummets to five percent. Early detection is key.

A comprehensive analysis of the genetic patterns of IM can predict its subsequent progression towards stomach cancer. The genetic analysis of IM helps to identify those with a higher risk of progression to stomach cancer, adding further information to what is available by microscopic examination alone.

“Our study is the largest series of IM to be studied in detail by genetic analysis,” says Dr. Yeoh Khay Guan, co-lead investigator and Deputy Chief Executive at NUHS. “These new findings help us understand why some people have a higher risk of progression to stomach cancer, and identify those who may benefit from closer follow-up to prevent cancer or to detect it early so that it can be cured.”

Pertaining to at least one National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) initiative associated with this theme of genetic research into gastric cancer, an initiative for new precision oncology treatment approaches was conducted by the Foundation in connection with its Tissue Bank Consortium in China and other scientists. A multi-disciplinary team led by NFCR scientist, Wei Zhang, Ph.D., analyzed Next Generation Sequencing data from hundreds of gastric cancer samples from the Bank, discovering defects in three cellular signaling pathways (BRCA2, Wnt and PI3-K-ERBB4). Several newly developed drugs that target these pathways have also been tested in breast and ovarian cancers, and may lead to improved treatments for patients with stomach cancer.


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2018 Szent-Györgyi Prize Invite

2018 Szent-Györgyi Prize will be awarded to Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., and John T. Schiller, Ph.D. for the development of vaccines for human papilloma virus (HPV).

Saturday May 5th, 2018
6:00 pm

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20004

About the Prize:
Every year, the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research honors a scientist who made an original discovery or breakthrough in scientific understanding that has had a lasting impact on the cancer field and a direct impact of saving people’s lives. Read more about the Szent-Györgyi Prize  >>

About 2018 Winners:
2018 Szent-Györgyi Prize is awarded to a duo of oncology vaccine pioneers at the National Cancer Institute – Dr. Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., and John T. Schiller, Ph.D. – for development of vaccines for human papilloma virus(HPV). Read more about 2018 winners >>

If you have questions or need more information please contact:
Brian Wachtel 


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Patron Sponsors:


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Rare Disease Day: Sarcoma

Sarcoma: rare disease day
Rare Disease Day falls on the last day of February each year, raising awareness to support the millions of people worldwide who are suffering from nearly 7,000 different types of rare diseases. In the United States, a disease falls into the ‘rare disease’ category when it effects fewer than 1 out of every 200,000 people, reaching an estimated 25-30 million Americans. 

Rare diseases are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. For many years, pharmaceutical companies did not take an interest in researching solutions for rare diseases because the return on investment helped so few people. Therefore, the United States government passed the Orphan Drug Act of 1983 to financially incentivize the development of treatment for rare diseases, including rare cancers.

Rare Cancer: Sarcoma

Rare cancers, such as sarcoma, also receive attention on Rare Disease Day. Sarcoma is so rare that it represents only approximately 1% of all new cancer diagnosis, and just 16,000 patients are diagnosed in the United States each year.

Sarcoma is cancer of the connective tissue, so it is found in the bones, fat tissue, cartilage or muscles. This is different from carcinoma, which is cancer found in an organ or gland, such as the breast or prostate.

Sarcomas are divided into two subtypes: bone sarcoma and soft tissue sarcoma, with soft tissue sarcoma being the most prevalent. However, these two subtypes have approximately 70 different classifications combined. This makes sarcoma a very complex cancer to treat.

Treatment of Sarcoma

Sarcoma is typically treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but there is sometimes a risk of the sarcoma reappearing somewhere else in the body.

With recent advancements in research, however, new treatments in immunotherapy are providing hope for sarcoma patients. Adoptive T cell therapy is particularly gaining traction due to its ability to modify the patient’s own T cells to seek out and attack molecules found on the cancer cells. 


Advancements in immunotherapy provides hope to sarcoma patients, but treating this cancer still requires a tremendous amount of guesswork due to the many different classifications. 

Rare Disease Day reminds of the important mission of organizations like the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Together, we can support groundbreaking research in the lab to find better treatments for patents with rare cancers.


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Managing Anxiety & Depression in Cancer Patients

Cancer changes the entire landscape of a person’s life. Career plans, the future, the present; these are all called into question when a diagnosis arrives. Certainly it is expected for cancer patients to become sad or angry, anxious or overwhelmed, as they come to grips with the battle ahead. However, those who remain in a prolonged state of anxiety or depression should seek help. Since one in four cancer patients are diagnosed with clinical depression, it’s important that patients know how, where and when to get help. Managing anxiety and depression so that these do not become stumbling blocks to successfully surviving cancer is integral to the fight.

Know Your Foe
The signs and symptoms of depression vary by individual. The profundity of symptoms ranges from mild difficulty adjusting to living with cancer to those who encounter serious mental health problems such as debilitating anxiety and major depression.  The hallmarks of an individual’s ability to cope and assistance from which they’d benefit, depend on the seriousness of their distress and can be categorized as follows:

  • Normal adjustment. Those patients who cope well and learn quickly how to productively handle the challenges related to a cancer diagnosis. Patient adjustments come at different times including when they are diagnosed, after treatment, finish treatment, go into remission, suffer a recurrence and become a survivor.
  • Social or psychological distress. Those patients who exhibit initial trouble adjusting to the challenges of a life post diagnosis and managing the stress as a result. Professional help to develop adaptive coping skills is beneficial.
  • Adjustment disorder. These patients have difficulty making changes in their life which successfully allow them to manage stressful situations and includes depression, anxiety, emotional, social or behavioral issues and negatively impact overall quality of life. Professional help and medicine may be necessary to help this type of patient return to and maintain emotional equilibrium.
  • Anxiety disorder. Patients are extremely anxious as a result of stress such as cancer diagnosis and exhibit worry, fear and dread. The severity of symptoms affects the patient’s ability to lead normal productive lives and disorders can include generalized anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Treatments vary by diagnosis of particular anxiety disorder. Patients are encouraged to talk to their doctors to develop a plan which will cater to their specific needs be they psychological or pharmaceutical.

Risk Management
Cancer patients are encouraged to find ways of managing undo stress and mounting anxiety which can inhibit their ability to successfully handle an already difficult recovery. The impact of anxiety on recovery is biologically tangible. As per the National Academies of Science:

  • Stress hormones increase the production of free radicals which contributes to DNA damage and impaired immune function, thus hampering recovery.
  • Stress hormones increase systemic inflammation by increasing levels of inflammatory proteins (cytokines) which impair immune function and actually promote cancer growth.
  • Stress hormones make it more difficult for abnormal cells to die while also impeding DNA repair, a process which is vital to the body’s self-regulating anticancer mechanisms.
  • Stress hormones fuel the production of VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), a protein discovered by the National Foundation for Cancer Research’s long-supported scientist, Harold Dvorak, and other secretions which can promote tumor cell growth.

Help and Healing
Patients are encouraged to work with their doctors to find the courses of therapy which will most successfully and productively help them to manage anxiety, stress and depression so that they can concentrate on getting better. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Oncological Stress and anxiety are often the byproduct of physical limitations due to the cancer or its treatment. Taking advantage of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology and manual therapy, provide a wide range of tools to combat cancer-related side effects and alleviate those emotional byproducts that detract from a patient’s quality of life.
  • Spiritual support. Leaning on one’s personal faith can be a powerful tool in navigating a cancer diagnosis. Talking with clergy or spiritual counselors offers a natural, self-managed way to address anxiety and stress while gaining perspective on their cancer journey. 
  • Some patients experience profound depression or anxiety and must therefore include in their drug therapy protocols treatments such as anti-depressants. Patients who suffer from uncontrolled anxiety, fear and dread should discuss with their doctors which drugs can help them lessen those symptoms while at the same time not interfere with chemotherapy or oncology drugs they need to continue their journey toward being cancer free.

The stressors triggered by cancer are certainly in no short supply. However, patients who plan proactively and draw on the rich and diverse options readily available through their doctors, community and care team will find they have the choice to experience recovery in more productive ways. There is no one right way to manage recovery, however, mounting anxiety or depression should not to be ignored. Having cancer does not require patients to forfeit living their best life even while battling the disease.


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“Background Genetic Risk” Studied in Breast Cancer

From a genetic standpoint, the human body is something like a symphony, with individual genes often acting as part of a larger sum. In the case of breast cancer, it can be that no one gene is so mutated as to cause the disease. Rather, cancer results more from the combined effect of a series of genes, individual ones of which, each by itself, would be of minimal concern. This idea was long suspected in the medical community, but it was not until last year that scientists had tools to collect and analyze the thousands of genomes needed to quantify it.

“It’s like a landscape full of hills and valleys, with each risky variant like a house on top of it,” said researcher, Dr. Na Li. “If you inherit a high-risk variant — a tall house — but live in a valley, your overall risk of breast cancer may end up being average because your genetic landscape pulls it down.”

While enormous strides have been made in linking a patient’s genes to their risk for breast cancer, about half of those considered under Li’s “high-risk variant” have no known genetic cause for their condition. This suggests a more complicated explanation: That “polygenic risk,” that is, risk conferred by a combination of genetic variants, was involved.

Dr. Li and her colleagues sequenced up to 1,400 candidate breast cancer genes in 6,000 familial breast cancer patients and 6,000 cancer-free controls. In this large sample, they searched for potential cancer-associated genes suggested by the literature, collaborators and their own previous results, and identified at least 46 genes that were at least twice as likely to have mutations among participants with breast cancer than in those without.

“When you know which gene is conferring the risk of breast cancer, you can provide a more precise estimate of risk, know what to expect and watch out for, and tailor risk management strategies to the patient,” said lead researcher, Dr. Ian Campbell.

They also used the data to calculate a polygenic risk score for each patient, and combined this score with data on their high and moderate-risk variants to estimate each patient’s overall risk of developing breast cancer. In the coming years, the researchers plan to expand the study internationally to further test and refine their findings across populations. They also hope to bring these more precise risk estimates into the clinic, to more accurately reassure women about their personal risk of cancer, or — if risk is high — advise preventive strategies such as screening at a younger age.

While this study is important and insightful, one mustn’t—nor do its authors—lose sight of the impact of individual genes. Indeed, the National Foundation for Cancer Research awarded its 2016 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research to the University of Washington’s Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., who discovered the BRCA1 gene—providing the first evidence of genetic predisposition to breast cancer. Her proof of existence of BRCA1 and the identification of its location made genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancers possible.

The research by Li and Campbell identified candidate breast cancer predisposition genes through whole exome sequencing of BRCAx families and equal numbers of cancer free women. King’s discoveries represent a fundamental step in the understanding of cancer and have changed the face of cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment. Li and Campbell’s work fine tunes this understanding of impact of individual gene’s known to be associated with higher incidences of breast cancer by too accounting for broader “background genetic risk.”   


Li, Na, et al. The contribution of rare variants, polygenic risk, and novel candidate genes to the hereditary risk of breast cancer in a large cohort of breast cancer families. Presented at the American Society of Human Genetics 2017 Annual Meeting. Orlando, Florida. (Oct 20, 2017

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