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Cancer Matters Home Research Top Cancer Research News: April

Top Cancer Research News: April

Michelle Potter
Michelle Potter

Dr. Bill Nelson discusses a new antibody drug for melanoma, hormone replacement therapy for women, vitamin D and the heart drug digoxin in treating prostate cancer. Listen to these topics and more discussed in the most recent Cancer News Review Podcast.

First, Nelson reviews the FDA approval of a new antibody drug called Ipilimumab, which will be marketed under the brand, Yervoy.  Ipilimumab does not target melanoma cancer cells themselves, but directs the body’s defense systems to help the immune system attack melanoma.  Ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody, a drug class that seeks out cells from the immune system and makes those immune cells recognize and kill melanoma. Clinical trials of Ipilimumab in metastatic melanoma have shown that twenty percent of patients treated have been alive for two years. However, there can be severe, life-threatening autoimmune reactions to this drug. This is the first collection of these types of antibody treatments and further research is being conducted.

From a new drug to an old drug, Nelson shares his thoughts on a recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association, on hormone replacement therapy for women and their associated cancer risks. A large study called the Women’s Health Initiative tested the effects of hormone replacement on breast cancer. The study found that estrogen and progesterone combined increase the risk of breast cancer. The effects of estrogen alone had other health impacts post menopausal women. Supplementing estrogens are historically known to increase risk for tumors in the uterus. The study found increased risk of cardiovascular complications, stroke, blood clots, but a slightly decreased risk of breast cancer. When women in the study stopped taking the drug, within a few years, their risk for cardiovascular complications decreased, but, surprisingly, the reduced risk of breast cancer persisted.

Next, Nelson discusses the Institute of Medicine’s evaluation of the evidence for vitamin D supplementation for health concerns. The Institute of Medicine concluded that adequate vitamin D levels in body confer certain health benefits, particularly for bone health. He says some population based studies correlated low vitamin D levels with high-risk for obesity, cancer and heart disease.  There are very few studies on determining whether vitamin D supplementation would impact cancer risk, and most of them show no benefit of reducing breast cancer and other types of diseases.

Finally, Nelson adds his thoughts on the drug digoxin, a heart drug used for centuries, and its potential in prostate cancer treatment.  Nelson and his colleagues worked with Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, Elizabeth Platz, to find, in a population-scale study, that men taking digoxin had a lower chance of developing prostate cancer than those not taking the drug. Nelson suggests that digoxin may be a drug worth studying as a therapy for prostate cancer.

Program notes:
0:21 Antibody drug against melanoma
1:04 Seeking out cells that help kill cancer cells
2:01 First of a collection of these types of treatments
2:26 HRT risk in women
3:11 Slightly decreased risk of breast cancer
4:00 Narrow group in whom this might be beneficial
4:23 Vitamin D lacking benefit for cancer prevention
5:04 Very few studies where they are given the supplement
6:00 Need to change to a more healthy behavior
6:10 Digoxin and prostate cancer
7:04 Ask on a population level is there a benefit?
7:44 I would not advise this for prostate cancer at this time
8:23 End