The Latest News in Cancer Research and Treatment: September 2021

News breaks all the time in the cancer arena. Sometimes it’s big – like a word that a breakthrough drug has increased the survival of a difficult-to-treat cancer. Sometimes it is smaller. It can all matter to you and your family on your cancer journey. We do our best to keep you up to date with a monthly overview of some of the most important recent cancer news.

Young children receiving platinol are more prone to hearing loss than older children

What’s new Children under age 5 who receive the drug Platinol (cisplatin) as part of their chemotherapy regimen may be at high risk of permanent hearing loss, especially during the early phase of their treatment, according to research published online Sept. 2 in the journal Cancer.

Investigation Details Researchers examined previously collected data from 368 Canadian pediatric cancer patients (140 under the age of 5 and 288 older) who were given Platinol and had had at least two hearing tests during their treatment. Seventy-five percent of younger children developed Platinol-induced hearing loss (CIHL) versus 48 percent of their older peers. Hearing loss also occurred more quickly in the younger children, with 27 percent of them affected three months after starting cisplatin and 70 percent after one year, compared to 9 percent and 27 percent of the older children at the same time intervals. Other important factors that seemed to influence hearing loss included the total amount of Platinol received over time and whether patients were also receiving the drug Oncovin (vincristine).

Why this is important This isn’t the first study linking Platinol to hearing loss in children, but it is one of the first to explore whether age and dosage play a role. While more research is needed, parents and caregivers may want to discuss whether more frequent hearing tests make sense during cancer treatment in a child so that counseling and rehabilitation can begin as early as possible.

App data underscores the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine for people undergoing cancer treatment

What’s new The majority of patients treated for cancer can safely receive a COVID-19 vaccine without interrupting or delaying their treatment, according to research presented at this year’s annual conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology ESMO .

Investigation Details Researchers analyzed data from 1,069 patients with various cancers, including those with breast, gynecological, gastrointestinal, lung, and genitourinary cancers, who were being actively treated and who used the Belong.Life app to learn about their experiences after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. Overall, 82 percent of patients who received a vaccine experienced no or mild side effects that lasted only one to three days in most cases. Side effects included a sore arm, headache, fatigue and high fever. Ninety-six percent of patients continued their cancer treatment without delay or interruption.

Why this is important Cancer treatment can reduce the immune response, making patients more vulnerable to the negative effects of COVID-19. But questions have been raised about how well patients would tolerate the vaccination, which can cause side effects, in this population. This is one of the first studies to look directly at active treatment in practice for cancer patients. The findings reinforce that the majority will experience only mild, short-lived side effects from the vaccines. In addition, the vaccines do not appear to negatively affect cancer treatment itself.

COVID-19 continues to hinder cancer screening

What’s new New diagnoses of the eight most common cancers are still below pre-pandemic levels, according to a study published online Aug. 31 in the JAMA Network Open. The findings do not suggest that those cancers are declining in numbers, experts say, but rather that fewer people are being screened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investigation Details Researchers from Quest Diagnostics examined data from 799,496 patients who were tested at one of their facilities during the pre-pandemic period – January 2019 to February 2020 – and three periods over the course of the pandemic: March 2020 to May 2020, June to October 2020 and November 2020 to March 2021. Cancer diagnostic codes were used to identify eight common cancer types (female breast, colon, lung, pancreas, cervix, stomach, esophagus, or prostate). A diagnosis was considered “new” if the patient had no previous code entry since January 2018. Findings showed that new diagnoses for all eight cancers combined decreased by 29.8 percent between March and May 2020, compared to those in the pre-pandemic period, and were significant for all cancers. In addition, the trend has continued as the pandemic increased and decreased. New monthly diagnoses dropped nearly 10 percent from June to October 2020 and by 19 percent for the most recent period (November 2020 to March 2021).

Why this is important Given the mandatory lockdowns and the shift of medical staff and resources from routine screening to COVID-19 care, it is not surprising that new cancer diagnoses fell during the early stages of the pandemic. But new diagnoses still remain below pre-pandemic levels, meaning screening has still not caught up, and some of the most common cancers remain undiagnosed and untreated.

New study adds to evidence that antibiotics increase colorectal cancer risk

What’s new Moderate use of antibiotics may increase the risk of colorectal cancer in the first and middle sections of the colon (known as the proximal section), according to research published online Sept. 1 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Investigation Details Swedish researchers analyzed antibiotic use in 40,545 patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 202,720 cancer-free controls, all of whom participated in a national registry between July 2005 and December 2016. Just over half of the participants were male, and about a third of the cancers. were located in the first or middle parts of the colon. Overall, taking specific antibiotics (quinolone, sulfonamides, and trimethoprim) for 61 to 180 days (“very high use”) increased the risk of developing cancer in the first or middle colon by 17 percent, while moderate use (11 to 60 days) increased the risk by 9 percent. There was only one interesting and contradictory finding in women: the risk of rectal cancer appeared to be reduced by 4 percent with moderate antibiotic use and by 9 percent with very high antibiotic use.

Why this is important The findings add to the growing body of evidence linking antibiotic use to an increased risk of colon cancer. The study also provided insight into possible mechanisms, including disruption of the protective gut environment (microbiome). Ultimately, reducing antibiotic use may become part of a colon cancer prevention program that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, a healthy weight, and limited alcohol intake.

New strategy unveiled in the fight against advanced cervical cancer

What’s new Adding the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) to chemotherapy regimens appears to significantly slow disease progression and improve overall survival in women with advanced cervical cancer, according to research findings presented at the annual conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology and also published online Sept. 18. in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Investigation Details Researchers randomized 617 women with advanced cervical cancer to receive Keytruda or a placebo plus chemotherapy with or without a type of immunotherapy drug called Avastin (bevacizumab) every three weeks for up to 35 cycles. The findings showed that, compared to placebo, adding Keytruda to current treatment increased progression-free survival by approximately two months and overall survival by approximately eight months.

Why this is important By the time cervical cancer spreads to other parts of the body outside the cervix, it is no longer considered curable. Instead, treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease and improving overall survival. Experts believe that Keytruda added to chemotherapy, with or without Avastin, will become the new standard of care for women with advanced cervical cancer, as well as for women with persistent or recurrent cancers.

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