How Does Exercise Reduce Cancer Risk?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 13, 2016

Group Yoga Class in Studio

Researchers at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center are investigating the link between exercise and lower risk of cancer, including risk of cancer recurrence.

This much is known: A sedentary lifestyle raises the risk of cancer, while physical activity – even moderate exercise – can reduce the risk not only of developing cancer but having a recurrence following treatment. What’s not so clear is exactly why.

“It’s still a little unknown,” says Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, co-director of the Colon and Rectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, who has studied the relationship of exercise and colorectal cancer risk. In a previous study, he and Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center, reported that in patients with stage III colorectal cancer, more physical activity was associated with a lower risk of cancer recurrence and mortality.

According to Dr. Meyerhardt and other researchers, one way exercise can influence cancer risk is by lowering the amounts of insulin and insulin-like growth factors in the bloodstream. These hormones stimulate tumor cells to spread and survive despite the body’s attempts to kill abnormal cells. Studies show physical activity can directly reduce insulin levels, and research on this link is continuing. Jennifer Ligibel, MD, a Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center oncologist and director of the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, led a study in breast cancer patients that showed that participation in an exercise program led to a reduction in insulin levels in previously inactive breast cancer survivors.

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Can Pancreatic Cancer Be Inherited?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 1, 2016

3d rendered illustration of the male pancreas

Familial pancreatic cancer refers to families in which at least three members, or two or more individuals who are first-degree relatives of one another, have been diagnosed with the disease.

Most cases of pancreatic cancer develop for unknown reasons, but about 10 percent occur in families that have a strong history of the disease. That doesn’t mean that if you are a member of such a family you will develop pancreatic cancer, but rather that you are at a higher risk for it.

“Research has shown that familial pancreatic cancer is not as rare as we had thought,” says Dr. Matthew Yurgelun, a specialist in the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center and the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Pancreatic cancer, which is often deadly, is diagnosed in about 53,000 people in the United States each year. Factors such as older age, smoking, and obesity increase the risk.

Familial pancreatic cancer, or FPC, refers to families in which at least three members, or two or more individuals who are first-degree relatives (a parent, child, or sibling) of one another, have been diagnosed with the disease. Healthy individuals in such families have an increased risk of developing the cancer during their lifetimes – several times higher than the 1.3 percent lifetime risk for non-familial pancreatic cancer.

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Mom with Breast Cancer Finds Care Close to Home

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 23, 2016

Breast cancer patient Cathy McCue (consent # 8413). Photographed at Dana Farber South Shore in Weymouth for Turning Point magazine Spring Summer 2016. Cathy McCue is a patient at South Shore who benefits from the expanded Young Women with Breast Cancer program.

Cathy, a 44-year-old mom from Hanover, Massachusetts, received breast cancer care close to her home through Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital.

When Cathy McCue, 44, tried to find words to tell her 8-year-old twin boys about her cancer, she turned to books like “Mom Has Cancer” and “Nowhere Hair.”

Her own story began in June 2015, when she felt a pain in her right breast while at the gym. After finding a lump later that night, Cathy, a homemaker in Hanover, Massachusetts, went to see her primary care physician, and was guided quickly through detection to diagnosis.

A biopsy revealed that she had triple negative breast cancer, in which the cancer cells do not have estrogen, progesterone, or HER2 receptors, and therefore do not respond to some commonly used breast cancer drugs.

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How Does Your Gut Impact Your Health?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 11, 2016

Beautiful vector illustration of bacterial flora in human internal organs. Abstract medicine concept. Useful for poster, indographics, placard, leaflet, brochure, print, book and ad graphic design.

Microorganisms in the gut produce important nutrients that are essential for your health.

Believe it or not, the bacteria and organisms living in your gut (constituting most of the human microbiome) affect your health more than you may think.

“The microbiome has as much influence on health and disease as our genomes and other environmental exposures,” said Dr. Lynn Bry, Director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center in the Department of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

Microbes (microorganisms) in the gut, for example, produce important nutrients. These include Vitamin K, which provides appropriate clotting of the blood, and B vitamins (such as Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12) that are essential for a healthy brain and production of blood cells. They are also essential in maturing the immune system, gut, and other tissues.

Diet has major effects upon microbial communities. Changes in diet, including sudden changes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake, can rapidly alter the composition of the microbes in the gut and also impact what they do. Other factors that affect microbiota include antibiotic exposures and even factors such as exercise and sleep.

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Join Us to Learn about the Latest in Prostate Cancer

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 9, 2016

D'Amico blog

Dr. Anthony D’Amico, Chief of the Genitourinary Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, is one of the featured speakers at the Annual Symposium on Prostate Cancer.

Would you like to learn about the latest in prostate cancer prevention, detection, and treatment? Join prostate cancer experts from Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center at the 18th Annual Symposium on Prostate Cancer on the evening of Wednesday, September 7, 2016 in Newton, Massachusetts. (See below to register.)

Featured speakers will include Dr. Anthony D’Amico, Chief of the Genitourinary Radiation Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center; Dr. Mary-Ellen Taplin, Director of Clinical Research for the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center; Dr. Adam Kibel, Chief of Urologic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, and Dr. Jerome Richie, Chief of Urologic Surgery (Emeritus) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Our team of pioneering, nationally and internationally prominent specialists will discuss:

  • Prevention with lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise
  • Controversies about early detection and screening using PSA and other novel biomarkers
  • Surgical and radiation approaches, including newer less invasive techniques and procedures
  • Prostate cancer staging
  • Novel treatment for advanced prostate cancer
  • Management of side effects of prostate cancer treatment

PLEASE NOTE THAT REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED TO ATTEND THIS EVENT. To register, please call us at 1-877-DFCI-BWH or register online.

Related links:

Five Things You Need to Know about Barrett’s Esophagus

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 2, 2016

A male patient in a doctor's office describes his symptoms.

A complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s esophagus can be a precursor for esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and can sometimes be a precursor for esophageal cancer. The condition occurs when the tissue lining the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) begins to resemble tissue that lines the intestines as a result of chronic regurgitation of stomach acid into the esophagus.

The condition is surprisingly common. Approximately one in six Americans has reflux symptoms weekly, and about 10 percent of these Americans have Barrett’s esophagus.

“Barrett’s esophagus is considered a pre-cancer, but with careful monitoring and treatment, specialists can help prevent it from turning into cancer,” says Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Here are five things you should know about Barrett’s esophagus:

What are the symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus?

Because Barrett’s esophagus is often a complication of GERD, many people show symptoms of GERD. These include chronic heartburn, nausea, pain in the chest or upper abdomen, vomiting, problems swallowing, or respiratory problems.

How does Barrett’s esophagus relate to esophageal cancer?

Having Barrett’s esophagus slightly increases your risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the esophagus. If diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, it is important to have regular exams to detect precancerous cells. If the cells are caught early, they can be treated before they spread.

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What Are Precursor Blood Conditions?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital July 26, 2016

Irene Ghobrial, M.D. in her lab with a microscope.

Researchers in the Center for Prevention of Progression of Blood Cancers are seeking to understand why some patients with precursor blood conditions develop cancer and others do not.

Precursor conditions are early phases of blood diseases that may develop into cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, and multiple myeloma. Most people do not experience symptoms, and since doctors rarely screen for precursor conditions, they are often diagnosed after routine blood tests.

“Many diagnoses are purely incidental,” says Irene Ghobrial, MD, co-principal investigator at the Center for Prevention of Progression of Blood Cancers and medical oncologist in the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

Patients with a precursor condition are often told to “watch and wait.” In other words, the condition is monitored and treatment only begins if it develops into cancer. Not every person diagnosed with a precursor condition will be diagnosed with a blood cancer, but many cases of blood cancer do develop from precursor conditions.

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Why Does Cancer Risk Increase as We Get Older?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital June 28, 2016

Cancer risk increases significantly after age 50, and half of all cancers occur at age 66 and above.

Cancer risk increases significantly after age 50, and half of all cancers occur at age 66 and above.

Today’s post originally appeared on Insight, the blog of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Age is the biggest single risk factor for cancer. Risk increases significantly after age 50, and half of all cancers occur at age 66 and above. According to the National Cancer Institute, one quarter of new cancer diagnoses are in people aged 65 to 74.

The median age of diagnosis varies in different cancer types – 61 years for breast, 66 years for prostate, 68 years for colorectal, and 70 years for lung – but the disease can occur at any age. Bone cancer, for example, is most frequently diagnosed in people younger than 20, and neuroblastoma is more common in children than in adults.

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Brain Cancer Patient: Can Access to Medical Data Save Lives?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 24, 2016

The MRI image above shows a tumor in Steven Keating’s frontal left lobe.

The MRI image above shows a tumor in Steven Keating’s frontal left lobe.

After participating in a brain research study, Steven Keating avidly collected and examined his personal medical data. Steven’s curiosity ultimately helped to identify his own brain tumor, a glioma, which was removed in the Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating Suite (AMIGO) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2014.  Based on this experience, Steven is now a vocal advocate of providing patients with open access to their medical information. In this video, Steven shares the incredible story of how his life-long curiosity helped identify his brain tumor – and how curiosity about medical data also can help others.

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Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer May Increase Risk of Depression

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital May 19, 2016

Paul Nguyen, MD, radiation oncologist

Paul Nguyen, MD, radiation oncologist

A new Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) study has found a significant association between depression and patients being treated for localized prostate cancer (PCa) – cancer that has not spread beyond the prostate – with androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). Through drugs or surgery, ADT reduces a patient’s level of androgen hormones to prevent prostate cancer cells from growing.

“We know that patients on hormone therapy often experience decreased sexual function, weight gain, and have less energy – many factors that could lead to depression,” says senior author Paul Nguyen, MD, of Radiation Oncology at BWH. “After taking a deeper look, we have discovered a significant association between men being treated with ADT for PCa and depression.”

Nguyen calls this discovery “a completely under-recognized phenomenon.” Around 50,000 men are treated with ADT each year.

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