Posted on

Moustache, Must dash, must ache, prostate?

What do Freddie Mercury, Tom Selleck, Hulk Hogan and Charlie Chaplin all have in common?

They are all known for their iconic moustaches.

Why moustaches on a medical blog I hear you ask? Well it is November. November is the month that men worldwide put down their shavers, and start fiddling about with little combs to try and grow the most iconic and outrageous moustache, all in name of Movember.

Movember was created to drawn much needed attention to Men’s health, primarily men’s cancers such as testicular, prostrate, as well as men’s mental health.

Thanks to this charity drive, highlighting the risks, symptoms, and spreading the word on these issues, millions of pounds has been raised, and has actually helped devise a blood test that spots prostate cancer drug resistance.

The test can identify key mutations driving resistance to a widely used prostate cancer drug. It can also identify in advance patients who will not respond to treatment.

Researchers say the breakthrough paves the way for information from a blood test to inform prostate cancer treatment in future, with only those patients whose cancers are free of resistance mutations taking the drug, abiraterone.

It will also allow patients who will not benefit from one drug to be given an alternative treatment instead.

Researchers analysed 274 blood samples from 97 patients using state-of-the-art DNA sequencing techniques. They found that mutations in a gene called the androgen receptor (AR) predicted resistance to the prostate cancer drug abiraterone, and that patients with these mutations had poorer survival.

Abiraterone is now standard treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer and has extended the lives of thousands. But while it is highly effective in many patients, 30 to 60 per cent don’t respond.

Researchers have been searching for a marker that will help predict in advance which men will benefit from the drug, and who should be given a different treatment.

Scientists discovered that men who harbour either a specific mutation or an increase in the number of copies of the AR gene, were 7.8 times less likely to have a reduction of more than 90 per cent in their PSA levels, a widely used test to monitor the response of prostate cancer.

The study also found that in about 15 per cent of men given abiraterone who did not have either mutation before starting treatment, this was acquired as the drug stopped working and appeared in the bloodstream several months before patients developed any symptoms.

Experts say blood tests are particularly valuable in cancer patients because biopsies are often difficult to perform and can carry risks. Even when biopsies are possible, they only give a snapshot of cancer genetics in a small specific area, whereas blood tests can give information that is more representative of multiple different tumours around the body.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, added: “Research like this wouldn’t be possible without the thousands of people who take part in Movember every year – and so with another campaign upon us, we can all do something to help the fight against prostate cancer.”


Posted on

More Than 11 Moles On The Arm Could Predict Future Cancer Risk

Having more than 11 moles on your right arm could raise the risk of getting skin cancer in the future, research has suggested. Researchers said they have found a new way for GP’s to quickly assess whether somebody may be at risk of developing melanoma by counting moles on a “proxy” body area such as the arm or the leg, according to experts from King’s College London.

Around 20% to 40% of melanoma is thought to arise from pre-existing moles. Having more than 100 moles on the body is a “strong predictor” of developing melanoma. The study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, examined data from 3,594 female twins. Specially trained nurses from St Thomas’ hospital in London performed a mole count on 17 areas on each person’s body. Skin type, hair and eye colour and freckles were also recorded in the research.


The results were checked against a further study involving men and women. Scientists found that the count of moles on the right arm was most predictive of how many moles were on the entire body. Those people with more than seven moles on their right arm had nine times the risk of having over 50 on the whole body, while those with more than 11 were more likely to have more than 100.

The experts found that the area above the right elbow was particularly predictive of the total body count of moles. The legs were also strongly linked with the total count, while men’s backs also highlighted as an increased risk. The researchers concluded: “We demonstrated that arm mole count of more than 11 is associated with a significant risk of having more than 100 moles, that is in itself a strong predictor of risk for melanoma.”

Lead author Simone Ribero, of the department of twin research and genetic epidemiology at King’s, said: “The findings could have a significant impact for primary care, allowing GPs to more accurately estimate the total number of moles in a patient extremely quickly via an easily accessible body part. This would mean that more patients at risk of melanoma can be identified and monitored.”

Dr Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said the finding could be useful because lots of moles makes it a higher risk for melanoma in the future. Other risk factors for melanoma include having red or fair hair, fair skin, light-coloured eyes or having been sunburnt in the past. “But less than half of melanomas develop from existing moles. So it’s important to know what’s normal for your skin and to tell your doctor about any change in the size, shape, colour or feel of a mole or a normal patch of skin. And don’t just look at your arms – melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, and is most common on the trunk in men and the legs in women.”

Posted on

Could The Cure For Cancer Have Been Found By Accident?

There are some accidents you can forgive. Like possibly discovering the cure for cancer. According to a recent study, a group of Danish scientists might have done just that by discovering that a potential malaria vaccine had the unexpected side effect of destroying and killing tumours.

Malaria is a blood borne disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite. It is spread through humans by the bites of mosquitos and, according to UNICEF, kills over a million people around the world every year. Malaria is especially dangerous for pregnant women as the parasite may attack the placenta, which puts the child’s life at risk. In their ongoing efforts to prevent these specific infections, scientists from the University of Denmark made a remarkable observation: Due to the similar characteristics between tumours and placentas, the same technique malaria uses to attack and destroy placentas, it could also be used to destroy cancer tumours.


“The placenta is an organ, which within a few months grows from only few cells into an organ weighing approximately 2 pounds, and it provides the embryo with oxygen and nourishment in a relatively foreign environment,” study author Ali Salanti said in a statement. “In a manner of speaking, tumours do much the same — they grow aggressively in a relatively foreign environment.”

The researchers attempted to improve on this natural design by attaching a cancer-killing toxin to the malaria protein. They found that the combination was highly lethal; in lab tests, it was up to 90 percent effective in destroying various cancer cells. The lethal combination was also tested successfully in mice that were implanted with different types of human cancers. And while it may seem jarring to trade off cancer for malaria, Thomas Mandel Clausen, a PhD student involved with the research, explained that the malaria protein only attaches on to the tumour “without any significant attachment to other tissue.”
It will be at least four years before the treatment will be available to test on humans, and researchers are hopeful it’ll be a significant step forward in cancer treatment research. However, since the protein they use attaches to carbohydrates found only in the placenta and cancer tumours, this life-saving characteristic will make the treatment too dangerous for cancer treatment in pregnant women. “Expressed in popular terms, the toxin will believe that the placenta is a tumour and kill it, in exactly the same way it will believe that a tumour is a placenta,” Salanti said.