This month's Cancer News Review podcast with Kimmel Cancer Center director Bill Nelson begins with updates on the field of head and neck cancer in light of the encouraging news that actor Michael Douglas' cancer is in remission. Nelson says that there is an emerging story in oropharyngeal cancers (those that are in the back of the throat, tongue, soft palate and tonsils).  An increasing number of these cancers are associated with certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that causes cervical cancer.  Patients with HPV-associated head and neck cancers fare better than patients whose cancers are causes by alcohol or tobacco use.  He says the molecular details of why this infection causes cancers and why these patients fare better is still not understood.

In the second review topic, Nelson discusses a recent announcement by MIT researchers regarding a blood test for cancer that uses a device to sift through cells in the bloodstream to find cancer cells.  The idea is to identify these cells and determine their features.  He likens the test to a "liquid biopsy."  He suggests that the real utility for such a test is to identify circulating cancer cells in cancer patients that can guide clinicians on the cellular changes that could make the patient's cancer more vulnerable to particular kinds of therapy.

Finally, Nelson addresses a study recently appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute outlining the increasing costs of cancer care.  He says that the number of cancer cases is increasing in part due to the aging population and this presents one of the greatest challenges for health services delivery.  The authors of the study addressed rising drug costs as a major issue, and Nelson says that to combat this, clinicians need to use cancer drugs "perfectly."  He says that new tools in the genomic revolution will help to better target drugs to the patients who are most likely to benefit from them.

Listen to the podcast.

Program notes:

0:15  Throat cancer
0:46  Some are caused by human papilloma viruses
1:30  Many people get their cancer tested
2:12  Hope to stop cervical cancer as well as oropharyngeal cancers
2:42  If you stop smoking cancer risk falls
2:51  Detecting a single cancer cell among millions
3:27  More and more often in established cancers don’t know what changes
4:11  Test like this for screening?
5:13  What is the significance of a single cancer cell?
5:47  Projection on likely costs of cancer care
6:21  One criticism is the cost of cancer drugs
7:08  Promise of genome revolution predicting who will benefit
7:40  End

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