Pensioners seven times more likely to get deadly skin cancer than 40 years ago

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People over 65 are around seven times more likely to develop malignant melanoma compared to 40 years ago, according to new figures released by Cancer Research UK today (Monday).

“Many cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, are preventable by taking precautions in the sun and making sure you don’t burn.” – Dr Julie Sharp

Older men in Great Britain are around 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with this kind of life-threatening skin cancer than their parents’ generation while older women are around five times more likely to develop this disease.*

The most recent figures show that on average around 5,700 pensioners are now diagnosed with melanoma each year compared with just 600 in the mid 1970s.**

While age is one of the biggest risk factors for melanoma the huge increase in pensioners being diagnosed with the disease is ikely to be linked to the cheap package holiday boom dating from the 1960s, and the desirability of having a tanned appearance even at the expense of painful sunburn.

Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of developing malignant melanoma and even reddening of the skin is a sign of damage.

Health apps: a note of caution

There’s a running joke that if you check your symptoms on the Internet, it will probably diagnose you with cancer.

But there seems to be a growing trend that we are starting to rely more and more on digital technology to help us with our health. For example, WebMD last reported an average of 156 million unique users per month – a 33 per cent increase from the previous year.

Health apps (applications that offer health-related services on your mobile phone or tablet) are flooding the market. And the same goes for wearable technology, or ‘wearables’, like the Fitbit, JawBone and most recently the Apple Watch.

One recent study in JAMA Dermatology, which looked at various skin cancer apps, found that three out of the four apps they examined incorrectly classified at least 30 per cent of melanomasas ‘unconcerning’.

The only one that was accurate wasn’t a diagnostic app at all – it helped people with suspected skin cancer by sending a picture directly to a certified dermatologist.

Another study, this time published in the British Journal of Dermatology, examined 39 skin cancer-focused apps and found that none them had been validated for diagnostic accuracy or usefulness by any established research methods.

View the full story here http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/04/24/health-apps-a-note-of-caution/

Tetanus shot improves patient survival with brain tumor immunotherapy

An innovative approach using a tetanus booster to prime the immune system enhances the effect of a vaccine therapy for lethal brain tumors, dramatically improving patient survival, according to a study led by Duke Cancer Institute researchers.

In a small human study, they enrolled 12 brain tumor patients, with half randomly assigned to receive a tetanus booster and the other half a placebo injection. The next day, patients in both groups were then given the dendritic cell immunotherapy. Researchers did not know which therapies the patients received.

Patients randomized to get a tetanus shot showed a significant increase in survival from the time of pre-conditioning compared to patients receiving just the dendritic cell therapy, with half living from 51 to 101 months, compared to 11.6 months for the comparison group. One patient from the tetanus group continues to have no tumor growth and is still alive at eight years after the treatment.

Link to the research: Duane A. Mitchell, et al., Tetanus toxoid and CCL3 improve dendritic cell vaccines in mice and glioblastoma patients. Nature, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nature14320

Pancreatic cancer risk linked to weak sunlight: Harm may come from low vitamin D

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report pancreatic cancer rates are highest in countries with the least amount of sunlight. Low sunlight levels were due to a combination of heavy cloud cover and high latitude.

Researchers studied data from 107 countries, taking into account international differences and possible confounders, such as alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking. “While these other factors also contribute to risk, the strong inverse association with cloud-cover adjusted sunlight persisted even after they were accounted for,” said Garland.

Link to research: Cedric F. Garland, et al., Cloud cover-adjusted ultraviolet B irradiance and pancreatic cancer incidence in 172 countriesThe Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2015;

Melanoma’s ‘safe haven’ targeted for shut-down

Around half of melanomas are caused by a mutation in a gene called BRAF. Drugs called BRAF inhibitors treat these melanomas by targeting the faulty gene. But these cancers can quickly develop resistance to these targeted treatments.

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, (link is external) funded by Cancer Research UK, and at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute (link is external) have discovered that a side effect of BRAF inhibitors is that they prompt healthy cells to form a ‘safe haven’ shielding melanoma cells from cancer drugs. So even if some cancer cells are destroyed, the protected cancer cells may survive – and the disease can recur in a form that is untreatable.

Carried out in cells in the laboratory, in mice and in samples from patients’ tumours, the researchers showed this ‘safe haven’ lets melanoma cells turn on a parallel set of cell signals that helps them survive. By adding a second experimental drug that blocks this alternative survival route by targeting a protein called FAK, the researchers discovered that resistance to BRAF inhibitors can be overcome. This combination of two drugs increased cell death and slowed growth in cell samples, and also stopped tumours from growing larger in mice.

Link to research: Hirata et al., Intravital Imaging Reveals How BRAF Inhibition Generates Drug-Tolerant Microenvironments with High Integrin b1/FAK Signaling, Cancer Cell (2015)

Picture credit: Dr Erik Sahai

Aspirin’s anti-cancer effects depend on a person’s genetic make-up

A person’s genetic make-up might determine whether they could benefit from taking aspirin to prevent bowel cancer, according to a US study. The findings also suggest that the drug could even increase cancer risk in a minority of people – although experts cautioned that more research was needed to confirm this.

The team combined the results of several previous studies on aspirin and other similar drugs – collectively called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs – comprising more than 8,600 people who went on to develop bowel cancer, and a similar number who remained healthy.

They then analysed participants’ DNA records, and looked at whether certain genetic variants, known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, were more or less common in each group.

As well as confirming the overall benefits of aspirin in preventing the disease, they found that nearly one in 10 study participants (nine per cent) who had a particular genetic variation received no benefit from the drug.

And a further four per cent – one in 25 – who carried one of two other DNA variants appeared to have an increased likelihood of going on to develop bowel  cancer after taking aspirin.

Link to the research: Nan H, Hutter CM, Lin Y, et al. Association of Aspirin and NSAID Use With Risk of Colorectal Cancer According to Genetic Variants. JAMA. 2015;313(11):1133-1142. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.1815.

‘Targeted’ ovarian cancer drug could also help certain men with prostate cancer

Olaparib was licensed in December for women with ovarian cancer and inherited BRCA mutations, but the new research suggests it could also benefit men with genomic faults within their tumours.

Researchers told the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) conference in Philadelphia that up to 30 per cent of men with advanced prostate cancer had tumours with defects in repairing DNA — and these responded particularly well to olaparib. The men most likely to benefit could be identified by genetic testing to look for mutations in genes responsible for DNA repair — including the BRCA genes and the gene ATM.

Link to the research: Mateo et al, DNA repair defects and antitumor activity with PARP inhibition: TOPARP, a phase II trial of olaparib in metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer, AACR conference 2015