Research

News Roundup: Most Cancers Due to Lifestyle Choices, Environment; New Test for Ovarian Cancer & More

Luck does not play the biggest role in a person’s likelihood of getting cancer. The largest risk factors for cancer involve lifestyle choices and the environment, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York reviewed stem cell experiments, computer modeling and molecular “fingerprinting” of cancers to conclude that the vast majority — 70 to 90 percent — of your lifetime cancer risk could be due to external factors. Those factors include exposure to toxins, pollution and radiation (including too much from the sun). Other external factors include smoking and poor diets.

The new study’s conclusion contrasts sharply with what a team from Johns Hopkins Medicine revealed in January of this year in a research paper that caused a stir in the medical community. The earlier study provided a “bad luck” hypothesis for how normal cells turn cancerous. That study focused on why tissue in certain parts of the body are more vulnerable to developing cancer than others. The conclusion: The process occurs randomly, meaning luck plays a big part in the development of cancer.

However, the new study finds that luck is a much smaller factor. The new study examined how cancers change according to where people live — a low-risk area compared to a high-risk area. The conclusion: Environmental or lifestyle factors found in the high-risk area substantially increases the likelihood of developing cancer.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a press release back in January challenging the results of the earlier study that concluded luck was the biggest factor. At the time, the agency said: “Concluding that ‘bad luck’ is the major cause of cancer would be misleading and may detract from efforts to identify the causes of the disease and effectively prevent it.”

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— John Fernandez

New Test Could Reduce Ovarian Cancer Deaths

The number of women who die from ovarian cancer may soon start to fall, thanks to a new blood test.

Developed by researchers in London, the new blood test incorporates a more precise algorithm and risk factors to screen ovarian tumors.  The study showed patients with more tumor-infiltrating lympohocyte cells (TILs) – or immune cells – had better outcomes.

Disease development in more than 200,000 post-menopausal women, ages 50-74, was tracked over a 14-year period.  The women who were given the blood test and developed ovarian cancer had a 20-percent reduction in the risk of dying from the disease. In addition to demonstrating earlier detection, the findings, published in The Lancet, also indicate the blood test can help determine treatment plans for ovarian cancer patients.

Often referred to as one of the silent killers because there are usually no warning symptoms, ovarian cancer results in death 60 percent of the time. The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer patients is 40 percent, compared to breast cancer’s 98-percent survival rate after five disease-free years, which is credited to advances in early detection practices.

While researchers and physicians are encouraged by the findings, they agree refinement of early detection method needs to continue.

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— Tanya Racoobian Walton

Regular Coffee Consumption Linked to Several Health Benefits

Yet another study links coffee drinking to a longer and healthier life. Coffee drinkers — regular and decaf brews — are less likely to die from a variety of diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, a medical publication.

The 10-year study tracked about 90,000 U.S. adults—regular coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers — who did not have a history of either heart disease or cancer. The results were adjusted to account for smoking and other health factors.

Coffee drinkers had a lower risk of death from the following conditions:

  • Heart disease.
  • Chronic respiratory disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Intentional self-harm.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Influenza.

“Coffee may reduce mortality risk by favorably affecting inflammation, lung function, insulin sensitivity, and depression,” according to the study, which was led by researchers from National Cancer Institute and John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The latest report is the second in recent weeks linking coffee to positive health benefits. A recent study from Harvard University showed that moderate coffee drinkers may have a reduced risk of early death.

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