June 20th, 2017

News about cancer research that could be very, very important

As I get older, I have lost more and more people I love and care about to cancer—one of them very very recently. Others I’m very close to have had the disease and are (knock wood) okay so far.

Anyone who’s as old as I am knows what I’m talking about. Cancer is a vile and terrible disease that can cause great suffering, and the treatment is often extremely difficult as well.

Therefore I am encouraged by this news:

Jayatilaka and a team at Johns Hopkins discovered the biochemical mechanism that tells cancer cells to break off from the primary tumor and spread throughout the body, a process called metastasis. Some 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused when cancer metastasizes. The team also found that two existing, FDA-approved drugs can slow metastasis significantly…

Typically, cancer research and treatment has focused on shrinking the primary tumor through chemotherapy or other methods. But, the team said, by attacking the deadly process of metastasis, more patients could survive.

“It’s not this primary tumor that’s going to kill you typically,” said Denis Wirtz, Johns Hopkins’ vice provost for research and director of its Physical Sciences-Oncology Center, who was a senior author on the paper…

Many researchers believe metastasis happens after the primary tumor reaches a certain size, but Jayatilaka found it was the tumor’s density that determined when it would metastasize…

Once the cancer cells start to sense the presence of too many other cancer cells around them, they start secreting the Interleukin proteins, Wirtz said. If those proteins are added to a tumor that hasn’t yet metastasized, that process would begin, he said…

The drugs the team used were Tocilizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, and Reparixin, which is being evaluated for cancer treatment.

The drugs bind to the Interleukin receptors and block their signals, slowing metastasis.

These two drugs have fewer side effects than typical chemo drugs, which is another plus. Of course, this has only been tested in animal models and the effect may not transfer to humans; that’s always a caveat with such research. But the knowledge about how a tumor metastasizes should be invaluable for the future.

The article says that about 90% of cancer deaths are caused by metastasizing tumors. It doesn’t explain the other 10%, but I’m pretty sure that a portion of them are from the category of cancers known as blood cancers—that is, leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma—which don’t involved solid tumors. They involve types of tissue that already spread throughout the body, and so my guess is that this research would not apply to them. [NOTE: We have a resident oncologist among our regular reader here, and I would welcome him weighing in on the subject.]

23 Responses to “News about cancer research that could be very, very important”

  1. T Says:

    The report I read listed this young lady as a sophomore working in the chemistry lab who put two-and-two together after attending a lecture on how bacteria follow virtually the same procedure.

    Quite a coup for a sophomore if true, and yet another instance of Isaac Asimov’s claim that the most important words in science are : “Hmmm, that’s interesting!”

  2. Oldflyer Says:

    Exciting stuff.
    Like so many families, mine has been devastated by cancer; mother at 46, father at 69, brother at 62. Sister had double mastectomy; wife lumpectomy; granddaughter, 4 years beyond leukemia diagnosis, and bone marrow donation from her little sister.

    I look in the mirror sometimes as my 82nd birthday fast approaches, and ask; “How?”, “Why?”. Same genes, same environment.

    Give that young lady an A+, and whatever she needs to keep putting two and two together.

  3. Baklava Says:

    Yep. I actually posted about this finding on my facebook this morning.

    Nutrition can help with apoptosis which is the normal process of cell death that cancer cells have turned off.

    But the real danger happens with metastasis when the cancer cells spread. I’m so happy to see this find.

    My wife has a brain tumor they discovered about 2 months ago and so I’ve read about 1,000 articles trying to get to the bottom of the research.

  4. Frog Says:

    There are three ways a cancer grows and kills:
    1) Local (primary) persistence or recurrence
    3) Both of the above.

    I am not sure I can agree with, or discourse on the blanket statements made by the article. Besides, I am playing duplicate bridge tonight!

  5. Sergey Says:

    The most important thing to know about malignant tumors is well known for decades, that is, malignancy have grades, from almost benign to extremely malignant, and that all tumors tend to become more malignant as they grow. They gradually turn off many different types of controls preventing normal cells from uncontrollable proliferation, one mechanism after another, until they became completely unrestricted. This is called tumor progression, and metastases are the final stage of this progression. One of these restrain mechanisms is so-called contact suppression of proliferation: when a cell “feels” that there are neighboring cells, it does not switch to division. Interleukins are known to regulate this crucial process of contact suppression of proliferation, which is the main feature of normal cells that is absent in malignant cells. So this finding does not surprise me a bit, and while I was studying cell biology and cancerogenesis more than 40 years ago, most of these findings were known then. But they were not in the focus of cancer research these times, which looks strange to me now.

  6. chuck Says:

    Wow, Oldflyer, that is a terrible and scary family history. I wish you the best of luck.

  7. om Says:

    If you can, consider donating platelets to help cancer patients.


    There are restrictions and conditions that exclude individuals from donating, sometimes only temporarily, and others which prohibit donation. My experience as a donor (since 2004) has been overwhelmingly positive.

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    I am so sorry to hear about any of you having loved ones with cancer. I wish you and them all good health!

  9. MollyNH Says:

    Those of us in NE
    May recall that mayor Meneno was a victim of metastatic cancer & doctors never located the primary cancer source. However this is terrific news.

  10. MollyNH Says:

    Sounds funny, I mean the discovery of course.

  11. huxley Says:

    My grandmother, who survived an old-school mastectomy, desperately wanted me to become a doctor so I might “cure cancer.”

    Well. I failed her on both counts, but I rejoice in this good news.

  12. J.J. Says:

    If it proves to be true in the long run, this is very good news.

    I had a cancerous tumor in my colon removed 18 months ago. The lymph nodes were normal – no metastasis. I do have to have a colonoscopy every year from now on. 🙁 This will be good to keep in mind for my future.

    A good friend died of colon cancer about two months ago. It had spread to many organs in his body. The doctors did everything they could to prevent the spread. If only this information had been available three years ago when he was first diagnosed, he might have survived.

  13. Oldflyer Says:

    JJ, I have also had an annual colonoscopy for the past several years. Well, actually I have a two year reprieve based on the last one.

    Colonoscopies have become such a mythical bogey man for so long, that people avoid them if at all possible. As you know, it is really a relatively minor inconvenience that pays big dividends. (It is rather fascinating to watch if you can forgo sedation.) There are relatively few things that I fear at this point. One is colon cancer; the other is alzheimer, or some other debilitating factor that makes me a burden on those I care for.

  14. AesopFan Says:

    This reminds me very much of the discovery that ulcers were not, in fact, the result of bad diet and stress, but of a bacterium, and were curable with antibiotics.
    Too late for my dad, who suffered with stomach and intestinal ulcers all his working life, and finally succumbed to colon cancer, possibly aggravated by the chronic ulcers.

    And then there was the discovery that citrus juice (vitamin C) cured scurvy (hence the British “Limey” sailors, those scurvy knaves), and that pellagra was caused by a diet deficient in niacin (fat back and hoe cake being the mainstay of poor southern whites and enslaved blacks), instead of the newly-fashionable germs.

    All of which breakthroughs were scoffed at when first proposed.

    Curiously, the discovery that rickets resulted from dietary deficiencies in vitamin D was the fruit of early scientific experiments.


    Rickets – particularly interesting for its “mortality bill” from 1634 London.


  15. neo-neocon Says:


    Actually, H. pylori does not CAUSE ulcers. See this.

  16. Sergey Says:

    Neo: re ulcers, this is to some extent semantics. H.pylori does not case ulcers, but it prevents them from healing, making the disease a chronic one. Ulcers are caused by a lot of different factors and are an important component of a general adaptation syndrome, aka stress.

  17. Sergey Says:

    This is another breakthrough development in medicine, probably just as important as anti-metastasis treatment:

  18. kolnai Says:

    This is really great to hear. My mother died of Leukemia, age 35, so I guess it wouldn’t pertain to cases like hers, but any progress on any cancer is a miracle.

    Something has got to work eventually. Or such is my fondest hope, anyway.

  19. expat Says:

    I read yesterday that the human genome has not been fully sequenced. Because of the technology, the segments that were sequenced and then put together could only be a certain length. These segments were then pieced together to get the complete sequence. However there was a problem in that very simple repetitive fragments were often overlooked, and it is thought that these fragments may have lots of info about diseases and developmental problems.

    People are now working to expand the capacity of the equipment, and they think they will learn a lot more about genes that may have been overlooked when sequences were put together. There is so much going on with technology today. I am so glad we have people working their butts of on these things.

  20. groundhog Says:

    Oldflyer says Colonoscopies have become such a mythical bogey man for so long, that people avoid them if at all possible.

    I’ve had 3 in the last 5 years. I’d rather have a colonoscopy than the dental hygienist with the gum poking tool.

  21. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Cancer has been ravaging my extended family of late, taking not only too many of those who’d reached old age after full lives, but also too many people in their prime with young families who needed them. Actually, one, at any age, would be too many. My deep sympathies to Neo and the others here who’ve suffered such losses.

    Looking for a better understanding of the devastation, I read the book “The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. It offers a fascinating but ultimately disheartening, picture of the history of the development of our understanding of the disease and the many futile attempts to cure it through the centuries. This new discovery seems consistent with that book’s final thesis – that cancer springs so inevitably from normal processes of cell growth and mutation that we’re never going to prevent it all, “cure” it or eradicate it, and that our best hope is to find ways to live with it while limiting and controlling it.

  22. KG2V Says:

    Next donation of platelets is coming up. I had a hold till Jun 19, as the last time they ended up not being able to give my unit back…

  23. Micheal W. Perry Says:

    Keep in mind that, for all the good news that may flow from this discovery, these drugs will need to be given before metastasis. That makes early detection even more important.

    That is typical of cancer research. Each new discovery leads to a new problem, which then must be addressed. Finding cures tends to be a slow, step-by-step process.
    Quote: “… leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma—which don’t involved solid tumors. They involve types of tissue that already spread throughout the body, and so my guess is that this research would not apply to them.”

    Having worked with childhood leukemia, I suspect you’re right. The childhood leukemias are called “acute” because they worsen incredibly quickly. In some children, the number of cancer cells quadruple every day. That’s why we wasted no time starting treatment. A child admitted on a Monday would often finish up induction chemotherapy on Wednesday.

    On the other hand, that same intense crowding in a solid tumor is present in a child’s bone marrow. There, the leukemia cells multiply so rapidly that they crowd out the production of healthy blood components: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. That leads to the classic signs of childhood leukemia: tiredness, a persistent infection, and easy bruising.

    There is at least a possibility that leukemic cells crowding together in the bone marrow might respond more to these anti-metastasis drugs than normal cells. That could reduce the danger of remission, which is when a small number of leukemic cells that survive the induction chemo start to multiply, bringing back a cancer that’s often resistant to those initial chemotherapy drugs.

    That’ll depend on whether the mechanism for spreading leukemia through the bone marrow of an entire body is like that for solid tumors. Does crowding of these returning leukemic cells in one bone marrow space lead to the break-off of those cells and their implantation in a different bone marrow space? Blocking that might make preventing remission easier.

    –Michael W. Perry, medical writer and author of My Nights with Leukemia

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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