Category Archives: Cancer

Gut bacteria: We share them with our kin

A family tree showing how different strains of Bifidobacteriaceae bacteria evolved in humans [blue] and our hominid relatives, the gorilla [green], chimp [yellow] and bonobo [red].

A family tree showing how different strains of Bifidobacteriaceae bacteria evolved in humans [blue] and our hominid relatives, the gorilla [green], chimp [yellow] and bonobo [red].

We’ve been posting quite a bit about the critters inside us, organisms that comprise the majority of the cells inside our skins.

They’ve been linked with a growing list of human afflictions, as we’ve noted in previous posts about  Previous posts have noted newly established links between our intestinal microbes and multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, anorexia, Alzheimer’s disease, and even our emotional states.

And now comes the latest intestinal microbial discovery, genetic traits they share in large part with their relatives in the guts of our own relatives.

From the University of California, Berkeley: [emphasis added]

For all the anxiety today about the bacteria in our gut being under constant assault by antibiotics, stress and bad diets, it turns out that a lot of the bacteria in our intestines have been with us for at least 15 million years, since we were pre-human apes.

A new comparison [$30 for a one-day access] of the gut microbiomes of humans, chimps (our closest ancestor), bonobos and gorillas shows that the evolution of two of the major families of bacteria in these apes’ guts exactly parallels the evolution of their hosts.

This shows that the microbes in our guts are determined in part by our evolutionary history, not just external factors like diet, medicine and geography. Obesity, cancer and some inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and Crohn’s disease, have been linked to imbalances in the mix of microbes in our stomach and intestines.

“We are showing that some human gut bacteria are the direct descendant of gut bacteria that lived within our common ancestors with apes,” said lead researcher Andrew Moeller, a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow in UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. “It shows there has been an unbroken line of inheritance or transfer from one generation to another for millions of years, since the dawn of African apes.”

Moeller is beginning to assemble a snapshot of the microbes in the guts of our ancient ape ancestor — in essence, a paleo gut that fit our paleo diet — and hopes to go even further back in time if, as seems likely, all mammals have evolved their unique microbiota from a common ancestral population in the distant past.

“We now have samples from all the major groups of mammals, and we’re working on tracing the evolution of the microbiome all the way back to when we were tiny carnivorous creatures 100 million years ago,“ he said.

There’s more, after the jump. Continue reading

Map of the day: Japanese cancer cartography

BLOG Cancer in Japan

From the Japan Times, which reports:

A landmark study of cancer diagnoses in Japan has revealed huge regional gaps in incidence rates in what one official said reflected notable differences in lifestyle habits across the country.

According to new statistics for all 47 prefectures, released by the National Cancer Center Wednesday, an estimated 865,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2012, up 14,000 from the year before. Men accounted for some 504,000 of the total, while women made up 361,000.

The latest figures offer the most precise picture yet of cancer incidence and deaths across Japan, the NCC said, adding it was the first time every prefecture had submitted data on cancer patients. In last year’s study, 40 prefectures cooperated.

The data show that many prefectures in the Tohoku region and western Japan prefectures along the Sea of Japan coast, such as Akita, Ishikawa, Tottori, Shimane and Fukuoka, have higher than average incidences of cancer. Prefectures including Chiba, Kanagawa and Kagoshima, meanwhile, have among the nation’s lowest cancer rates.

Tomohiro Matsuda, head of the registry section at the NCC, said regional differences in diet, smoking and drinking habits are reflected in the statistics, though a combination of factors comes into play.

Chemotherapy drug leads to loss of hearing

We’ve never done things in half measures.

Just ask any of our three ex-wives.

So when it came to cancer, we didn’t have just one variety. No, we had two [previously].

In addition to the prostate adenoma that’s almost inevitable for the aging male, I also had a much more pernicious Stage IV “high grade metastatic micropapillary urothelial carcinoma” of the bladder, which had pierced through the muscle begun infiltrating into the lymphatic system, the fast track to metastasis in other organs.

The prognosis wasn’t good. Even with surgery and chemo, sources we consulted at the time listed survival odds after five years at about one in five, although numbers I found today raised that overall number to 58 percent.

After I lost our bladder and prostate to the surgeon’s knife on the morning of 20 November 2012, then started a four-month-long regime of chemotherapy on 8 January 2013.

Chemo was, in short, miserable. There was the nausea, and to counter it, drugs that caused constipation so bad that two emergency room trip were required. We were spared further visits after our oncologist, since retired, provided authorization for medical marijuana.

But after all the initial agony, we discovered problems we hadn’t be warned about beforehand, resulting from the damage done to our nervous system by the same poisons that had killed off the cancer cells.

One form of damage was well known, neuropathy.

We discovered it when our feet would never fully “wake up,” but instead remained constantly atingle.

That might sound like a minor problem, but consider that constant and delicate feedback from the nerves in your feet is what, along with signals from your inner ear, allows you to keep balance when standing, walking, climbing. . .you get the idea.

And speaking of ears.

What we also discovered was that we’d lost about a third of our hearing, a loss compounded by sometimes shrieking levels of tinnitus, otherwise known as ringing in the ears.

When we mentioned it to our oncologist we got a dismissive response, and a suggestion that it was simply a product of being tired.

Three years later it’s no better.

We can’t watch television or DVDs without subtitles, and conversations are often intolerable because we miss half or more of the words unless the speaker is possessed of a speaking range that fits within the narrow range of frequencies to survive the damage.

But the hardest part was the dismissive attitude of our physicians.

Confirmation comes at least [What was that you said?]

Well, now we have hard evidence, involving cisplatin, the most painful of the drugs in our chemo regimen.

And whilst the patients involved in the study were treated for a different breed of answer than those afflicting us, the key result unquestionably applies.

From the University of Indiana:

Many testicular cancer survivors experience hearing loss after cisplatin-based chemotherapy, according to researchers at Indiana University.

The researchers, led by Lois B. Travis, M.D., Sc.D., the Lawrence H. Einhorn Professor of Cancer Research at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren  Simon Cancer Center, studied for the first time the cumulative effects of cisplatin-based chemotherapy on hearing levels in testicular cancer survivors through comprehensive audiometry measurements. They found that increasing doses of cisplatin were associated with increased hearing loss at most of the tested frequencies, involving 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 kHz.

The research was published online June 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“In addition to hearing loss, about 40 percent of patients also experienced tinnitus (ringing-in-the-ears), which was significantly correlated with reduced hearing,” Dr. Travis, also director of the cancer center’s Survivorship Research Program, said.

Although this study was conducted in patients with testicular cancer, the authors point out that the general conclusions are likely applicable to patients with other types of adult-onset cancers that are commonly treated with cisplatin. They indicate that it will be important to follow patients given cisplatin-based chemotherapy long-term to better understand the extent to which the natural aging process may further add to hearing deficits, as it does in the general population.

“The results show the importance of comprehensive hearing assessments, preferably, both before and after treatments,” Dr. Travis said. “Our findings suggest that health care providers should, at a minimum, annually query patients who have received cisplatin-based chemotherapy about their hearing status, consulting with audiologists as indicated. Patients should also be urged to avoid noise exposure, drugs having adverse effects on hearing, and other factors that may further damage hearing.”

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Chemo brain: Another drug is implicated

Chemo brain. . .two little words for something so profound.

But before we get to the latest medical finding about chemo’s cerebral ravages, some personal context.

Going through chemotherapy following surgery for an aggressive bladder cancer [plus more malignancy in the ol’ prostate] was a frightening experience on a body now equipped with bag on the belly to catch the urine from a section clipped from the small intestine voiding through an abdominal opening.

You lay therein a reclining chair, sometimes for the better part of a morning or afternoon, as a toxic chemical stew trickled into a burning vein.

The same chemicals toxic to the cancer also proved toxic to nerve cells, both in feet benumbed and tingling from neuropathy and in ears increasingly deafened and simultaneously clangorous with tinnitus.

But chemo also damages the hipocampus, part of the brain critical in memory formation [among other things], leading to the taxing effort needed to impress and recall events of daily life. . .in other words, chemo brain.

For fifteen years before the cancer diagnosis, surgery, and chemo, we had taken a mild weekly dose of another cancer chemo drug to keep in check a disease that tuned our immune system into an inflammatory machine consuming the cartilage between the joints of hands, wrists, and elbows.

Methotrexate was the major component of a five-drug cocktail drug we consumed, losing it from the mix a few years ago.

When it came time for the post-surgery chemo regime, the cancer panel at Kaiser considered the biopsy and our general medical profile and settled on two possible chemo regimes. Because the principal drug in one of the alternatives was methotrexate, I figured that since the cancer developed when methotrexate was present, the drug might conceivably have led to selection of cell lines more resistant to the drug. Our oncologist allowed as he could say for certain that I was wrong.

And that brings us to a new chemo brain finding, one in which methotrexate is both a blessing and a culprit.

From St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital:

Research from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital suggests that pediatric leukemia patients exposed to higher concentrations of the chemotherapy drug methotrexate are more likely to struggle with mental flexibility, organization and related skills as long-term survivors. The findings appear online in an early release article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology [subscription required].

Investigators also reported that brain imaging showed that higher blood levels of methotrexate during treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) were associated with anatomical and functional changes in regions of the brain involved with mental flexibility, planning, reasoning and other skills related to executive functioning. Brain imaging documented several changes, including increased activity in the frontal lobe region. The finding suggests survivors’ brains may be working harder to compensate for impaired cognitive functioning.

“With five-year survival rates for pediatric ALL approaching 95 percent, researchers are focused on better understanding and reducing the neurotoxicity patients still experience during and sometimes long after treatment,” said first and corresponding author Kevin Krull, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control. “It remains a relatively common problem even in the contemporary treatment era of chemotherapy only.

“This study is the first to show a clear dose-response effect between methotrexate concentrations in the blood during treatment and executive functioning in survivors. This information is essential for designing effective intervention to address the risk,” he said.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

The Precautionary Principle and why we need it

In its simplest form, as defined in a 2004 report from the World Health Organization, the Precautionary Principle declares:

[I] in cases of serious or irreversible threats to the health of humans or ecosystems, acknowledged scientific uncertainty should not be used as a reason  to  postpone  preventive  measures.

When it comes to things with the potential to do harm, in the words of our college botany professor, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Consider that today we have 80,000 chemicals in circulation for which we have very little information about their long-term impacts of ourselves and our environment.

How many times have we been assured that something is not only safe but beneficial, only to discover that, in fact, the substance in question is doing great harm.

Think DDT, most fire retardants, lead in our pipes and gasoline, bee-kkilling pesticides, and those endocrine disrupting chemicals found in so many products we use daily.

In Europe, new substances may not be introduced until they have been sujected to a review by the European Environment Agency, which, unlike the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has formally adopted the Precautionary Principle as its gold standard — and don’t forget that Donald Trump wants to abolish the EPA [among other things, he says it’s bad for his hair].

From 1995 to 2013, David Gee was senior advisor on science, policy, and emerging issues for the European Environment Agency [EEA], and in that role was a leading advocate for the adoption of the Precautionary Principle. He currently serves as a visiting fellow at Brunel University’s Institute of Environment, Health, and Societies in London.

In his work to the EEA, Gee was instrumental in the creation of two massive reports, the 2002 document Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000 followed in 2013 by Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation. Both are available as free downloads.

On 9 May he spoke at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School, and his talk is illuminating.

Two slides will serve to illustrate some of the — to us — shocking failures of U.S. science to address the proliferation of substances thrown at us by the corpocracy in which we live.

First, a chart showing that most scientific research on hazards is directed toward things we already know are harmful:

BLOG Hazards 2

The second reveals that very little funding goes toward researching possible adverse impacts of new technologies:

BLOG Hazards

And with that, on with the the talk, via University of California Television:

Warnings about Hazards to Health and Environments

Program notes:

Today’s “safety” can take decades to disprove. David Gee has worked for 40 years on reducing harm from hazards to health and environment. Here he explores the harm that can result from not responding adequately to health risks in the environment. Research eventually shows that exposures and the nature of the harm expand over time and that harm is caused at lower and lower levels of exposure. In addition, benefits of taking action expand over time.

Headlines of the day II: Gift that keeps on giving

First, from the London Daily Mail:

Nuclear leak at Washington’s infamous Hanford Site is CATASTROPHIC, former worker claims, as eight inches of radioactive waste escapes core of ‘the world’s safest’ tank

  • Tank has two shells; a crack was spotted in the inner one in 2011
  • Now that crack has widened, spilling waste into the gap between the shells
  • It happened after attempts to pump the waste out of the tank
  • The Department of Energy says this was ‘anticipated’
  • But workers at the plant said they weren’t told it was a possibility 
  • The double-shell tank can contain up to a million gallons of deadly waste
  • It was supposed to be the safest possible container for radioactive liquid 
  • The Hanford Site provided plutonium for the first atomic bomb 

And from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

The feds won’t pay these ill nuclear pioneers from the space race

  • Department of Energy says only Santa Susana workers in Area IV could be exposed to radiation
  • But former nuclear workers say the system wasn’t so tidy and that they deserve medical compensation
  • Tales of sodium reactor waste dump, radioactive mist

Endocrine disruptors in fracking wastewater

Longtime readers know esnl is somewhat obsessed with the subject of endocrine disruptors, chemicals we’ve created that turn out to be mimics of the chemicals produced by the body’s own endocrine glands capable of inducing conditions ranging from obesity and sterility to ADD and cancer.

We’ve also been concerned with fracking, most notably the federal government’s rules permitting oil companies to keep secret the chemicals they pour into the ground to extract oil and natural gas, chemicals that leach into groundwater supplies or spill into streams through breaches in waste containment dams.

And now comes research that melds these two nightmares.

From the University of Missouri School of Medicine:

Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations combine directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release natural gas and oil from underground rock. Recent studies have centered on potential water pollution from this process that may increase endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in surface and ground water and whether populations living near these operations have an increased risk of disease. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri report high levels of EDC activity in the surface water near a hydraulic fracturing wastewater disposal facility in West Virginia. Scientists warn that this level of activity may be associated with negative health effects in aquatic organisms, other animals and humans.

“Surface water samples collected on the disposal facility site and immediately downstream exhibited considerably greater EDC activity than surface water samples collected immediately upstream and in a nearby reference stream” said Susan C. Nagel, PhD, director of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health in the School of Medicine, and an adjunct associate professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. “The level of EDC activity was within the range or higher than the level known to impact the health of aquatic organisms.”

Dozens of chemicals may be used in fracturing at one site and approximately 1,000 different chemicals are reportedly used across the industry; more than 100 of these chemicals are known as or suspected to be EDCs. Large volumes of wastewater are produced in the process of fracking. Fracking wastewater is laden with chemicals used to drill and frack the well and may also contain radioactive compounds and heavy metals released from deep underground.

Disposal wells, like the one in the current study, are used only to dispose of fluids associated with oil and natural gas production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Approximately 36,000 of these disposal wells are currently in operation across the U.S., and little work has been done to evaluate their potential impacts on nearby surface water,” said Christopher Kassotis, a former graduate student in Nagel’s laboratory and a current postdoctoral fellow at Duke University. “Given the large number of disposal wells in the U.S., it is critical for further investigation into the potential human and environmental health impacts.”

“Endocrine Disrupting Activity in Surface Water Associated with a West Virginia Oil and Gas Industry Wastewater Injection Disposal Site” will be published online in Science of the Total Environment. Research was part of a larger collaboration with Denise Akob, a geomicrobiologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who also directed the study.