National Cancer Moonshot

Reflections on the new presidential initiative by a cancer nurse

National Cancer MoonshotAt the State of the Union Address in January, President Obama shot out a rocket concerning cancer research and finding a cure by 2020. This “moonshot” initiative is being led by Vice President Biden, who recently lost a son to glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer.

The National Institutes of Health will receive additional funding to bring its budget up to $2 billion. The National Cancer Institute will receive an additional $264 million towards its 2016 budget.  WOW!

The thinking behind this generous funding is that it will allow scientists the opportunity to pursue potential avenues that might lead to a cure for cancer. These avenues might not otherwise have been pursued due to lack of funds. Continue reading

Why is Pancreatic Cancer so Challenging?

The pancreas is located deep inside the body, so early tumors cannot be seen or felt by health care providers during routine physical exams. This makes it hard to see the pancreas with imaging technologies and sometimes makes it difficult to access to remove cells for a biopsy.

Pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare cancer and it typically affects people older than age 50. Pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose because the early symptoms are usually vague. Early symptoms may be nothing more than a general feeling of discomfort in the abdomen or an unexplained weight loss.

Another factor that makes pancreatic cancer so deadly is its resistance to treatment. At this time, the only possibility for long-term survival is surgically removing the cancer. Researchers are working on ways to detect the disease earlier, because that might allow more people to be eligible for surgery.

What tests are used to diagnose pancreatic cancer?

  • History and physical exam
  • Computed tomography (CT, CAT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy(OctreoScan) – helpful in diagnosing pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Ultrasonography (ultrasound)
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Angiography
  • Blood tests– Elevated blood levels of the tumor markers CA 19-9 and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) may point to a diagnosis of  pancreatic cancer made of exocrine cells, but these tests aren’t always accurate
  • Biopsy – A patient’s history, physical exam, and imaging test results may strongly suggest pancreatic cancer, but the only way to be sure is to remove a small sample of tumor and look at it under the microscope. This procedure is called a biopsy.

When disease has advanced beyond surgery’s reach, chemotherapy is the standard treatment. Two drugs are FDA-approved for the treatment of pancreatic cancer: gemcitabine (Gemzar) and erlotinib (Tarceva).

Research focusing on pancreatic cancer is increasing. Researchers are investigating ways to more effectively screen for the disease and examining possibilities for better treatment options.

Continue learning about pancreatic cancer treatment and research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers find first major gene mutation associated with hereditary prostate cancer risk

After a 20-year quest to find a genetic driver for prostate cancer that strikes men at younger ages and runs in families, researchers have identified a rare, inherited mutation linked to a significantly higher risk of the disease.

Kathleen Cooney, M.D.

Kathleen Cooney, M.D.

A report on the discovery, published in the January 12, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, was led by investigators at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Health System. The research team found that men who inherit this mutation have a 10 to 20 times higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

While accounting for only a small fraction of all prostate cancer cases, the discovery may provide important clues about how this common cancer develops and help to identify a subset of men who might benefit from additional or earlier screening. This year, an estimated 240,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“This is the first major genetic variant associated with inherited prostate cancer,” says Kathleen A. Cooney, M.D., professor of internal medicine and urology at the U-M Medical School, one of the study’s two senior authors. Continue reading