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

U-M Cancer Center’s Phase 1 clinical trials offer hope for new treatments

The ultimate goal in cancer research is to speed promising therapies from the laboratory to the clinic — where all patients may eventually benefit. That’s at the core of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Ravitz Foundation Phase I/Translational Research Center. An integral part of this this highly innovative program is that it offers new opportunities to patients who have no other treatment options.

Moshe Talpaz, M.D.

Phase I clinical trials are the first step in testing a potential new therapy in people. They focus on determining the right dose and method for delivering a drug. The ultimate question Phase I trials seek to answer is: Can this new drug slow down or stop cancer growth in a dose patients can tolerate?

Patients are monitored very closely to ensure their safety. As cancer research has evolved, drugs have become much less toxic, lowering patients’ risk significantly, said Moshe Talpaz, M.D., associate director of translational research at the U-M Cancer Center.

“Traditionally, when we looked at chemotherapy, we looked at how much we could give a person, assuming that more is better. We know now from Gleevec and other drugs that more is not always better. Now we’re looking for the optimal biologic dose and the biological changes associated with response,” he said. “It probably provides a better chance of benefit than in the past because we have become more systematic in our research.”

The Ravitz Center is unique in that it focuses solely on targeted therapies. In this approach to cancer treatment, researchers try to develop medications that interrupt the signals that cause cancer cells to reproduce.

Because targeted therapies are focused on cancer cells specifically, they tend to cause fewer side effects. Continue reading

Check out U-M Cancer Center events

Jan. 10

Lymphedema Class
1:30-2:30 p.m.
Level 1, U-M Cancer Center

Lymphedema is a side effect of cancer surgery that can be prevented and managed. Join our lymphedema experts from the U-M Department of Physical and Occupational Therapy to learn more about upper extremity lymphedema and how you can manage it. This class is open to patients undergoing cancer surgery involving the arm, chest or back. Space is limited, and registration is required. Call 1-877-408-7377 to learn more.

Jan. 13

Bandito’s Supports the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center
10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Bandito’s Restaurant, 216 S. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor

Mention the words “Cancer Center” when you place your order at Bandito’s, and the restaurant will donate 30 percent of your bill the the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Patient and Family Support Services Program. This offer is available for dine-in, carry-out or delivery orders. To learn more, call the restaurant at 734-996-0234.

Jan. 18

Acrylic Painting: Interpreting the Emotion of Color
11 a.m.-1 p.m. or 4 p.m.-6 p.m.
Level 1, U-M Cancer Center

This month’s Art Studio will focus on working with monochromatic color palettes. Participants will create a painting that is an exploration of one emotion. Additional materials will be available for creating multimedia paintings. This program, which is part of the donor-supported Art Therapy Program, is available free of charge to U-M cancer patients and their families. Space is limited, and registration is required. Please call 1-877-408-7377.

Jan. 21

Free Cervical Cancer Screening
1 p.m.-4 p.m.
U-M Livonia Health Center, 20321 Farmington Road

Cervical cancer will kill more than 4,000 American women this year, but proper screening can save lives. More than half of all cervical cancer cases affect women ages 30 to 55. Hispanic and African-American women are at highest risk. This free screening is open to any woman older than 21 who has not had a Pap test in the past two years and who does not have medical insurance that covers a Pap test. Call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine at 1-800-865-1125 to schedule an appointment.

Jan. 28

Tim O’Brien Trivia Night
O’Kelly Knights of Columbus, Dearborn

Compete for prizes at Tim O’Brien Trivia Night. Proceeds from the event–which will feature appetizers and pizza along with drawings–will support the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. Cost is $20. For more information or to register, email

Do you have a cancer-related event you’d like to promote? Let us know!

Family Matters: When Cancer Is Inherited

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you already know something has gone wrong inside your body’s cells. But how do you know if the genetic changes that caused your cancer were something you inherited or something that just happened sometime during the course of your life? Kara Milliron is a genetic counselor with the U-M Cancer Center’s Breast and Ovarian Risk Evaluation Program. We talked with her to find out what patients should know.

Let’s put this into perspective: Of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, how many will have a genetic mutation that led to their disease?
The majority of the 200,000 new cases of breast cancer each year is considered sporadic: It happens by chance. But about 5 percent to 10 percent of these cases are due to an inherited susceptibility. What this means is that women have inherited genes from their parents that make them more likely to develop breast cancer.

Can you explain how these genes work to increase risk?
Just like eye color, genes that impact cancer risk may be inherited. Two genes in particular, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are involved in increasing the risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Normally, these genes work to prevent cancer, but changes — or mutations — can cause them to function improperly. Women who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations face a 55 percent to 85 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 16 percent to 60 percent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. In comparison, the general population carries a 1.7 percent risk for ovarian cancer and a 12.5 percent risk for breast cancer. Continue reading

Risk factors shouldn’t guide decisions about HPV vaccine

About 12,700 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed annually, and about 4,300 women will die from it, according to the American Cancer Society. However, a vaccine can help younger women prevent it. Watch the video above to learn why the vaccine should be administered to all eligible women, regardless of risk factors.

Visit for more resources on cervical cancer.

Nature’s medicine: Spending time in nature may improve memory and concentration among cancer patients

We tend to underestimate winter’s beauty. The days are cold and short — and all too often dreary.

Bernadine Cimprich's research shows that spending time in nature can help cancer survivors fight attentional fatigue.

But every now and then it startles us: The sparkle of an icicle compels our attention. We “ooh” and “ahh” when snow dusts tree boughs like powdered sugar. And even if we dread the shoveling, we still pause to admire the way snow blankets imperfections before we dig in and muddy up the path.

With so many things competing for attention in our lives — particularly for those who have been diagnosed with cancer — it can be easy not to hear the snow crunching under our boots. But a growing body of research suggests that our lives might actually be better if we did. Bernadine Cimprich, Ph.D., R.N., an associate professor of nursing at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, has conducted studies that have shown that breast cancer patients who made a point of spending time in nature were better able to concentrate and had fewer problems with memory than those who did not spend time in nature.

“The women showed signs of having problems concentrating before any chemotherapy. The thought is that it’s related to fatigue and stress and that possibly when a woman gets chemotherapy, that’s compounded, but we don’t know that yet,” Cimprich said. “In any case, the women who spent time in nature showed improvement in cognitive functioning and maintained it over the course of the year that we followed them.”

Other studies have shown similar effects in the general population as well. Caregivers, in particular, may benefit from nature activities. Cimprich recommends spending at least 20 minutes in nature per day, or about two hours per week. Patients and caregivers should choose nature activities that appeal to their interests.

“Some people like to do gardening,” she said. “And some people just like to watch the garden grow.”

Read tips on the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site to see how you can get your daily dose of nature–even in the winter.