Friday Frontline: Cancer Updates, Research and Education on February 14th, 2020

From thousands of patients with breast cancer told to be re-checked after a surgeon performed botched surgeries to three young brothers receiving the same eye cancer diagnosis, here’s what is making headlines in the cancer space this week.
BY Conor Killmurray
PUBLISHED February 14, 2020
For more than a decade, a rogue surgeon in England performed hundreds of unnecessary or botched operations on unsuspecting patients with breast cancer. Now 11,000 former patients have been advised to follow up with a new doctor.

Ian Patterson, a former breast surgeon, was convicted in 2017 for 17 counts of wounding with intent and three counts of unlawful wounding and sent to prison. However, an independent inquiry to find out how his actions went unnoticed for more than 14 years found a larger pattern of abuse that affected thousands of patients.

Patterson would perform unregulated cleavage-sparring mastectomies, a surgery that did not remove all the breast tissue from the patient, which led to cancer to come back for some of the patients, according to the inquiry.

The deaths of 23 patients are also under further review. The report calls for
reform in England to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

There is no evidence of a link between cell phone use and cancer, but research needs to continue, according to a review conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The agency reviewed 200 experiments, 125 in animals and 75 in humans, that examined radiation of cell phones and a potential link to cancer. The FDA found no consistent pattern that linked radiofrequency radiation to tumors or cancer.

However, the widespread use of 5G has raised cancer concerns because it works at much higher frequencies than 4G. Currently, the technology falls under the current Federal Communications Commission exposure guidelines and cancer risk is extremely low, according to the FDA.

Limitations to the study included how data was collected in the human studies — information came from questionnaires filled out by family members or observational data. In addition, animal studies didn’t mimic how humans use cell phones. “Animal studies often douse a rat’s entire body in radiation at levels that are far higher than what humans are normally exposed to when we use cell phones,” according to MIT Technology Review.

In light of this, the FDA is still calling for more research to conclusively understand the risks for cancer from using cell phones.

The weight loss drug Belviq has been pulled from the market because of a slight increased risk of cancer.

Eisai Inc., the drug’s maker, voluntarily withdrew it after the FDA told patients to stop taking Belviq immediately and doctors to notify their patients to stop using the drug and look for alternatives.

The agency’s concern is based on data from a five-year study that included 12,000 patients. Findings showed that 7.7% of the participants on Belviq developed cancer compared with more than 7.1% that developed cancer in the placebo group. The increase was seen after extended use of Belviq.

Eisai Inc. said it disagreed with the FDA’s interpretation of the data and believes Belviq’s benefit outweighs the risk.

Could breast milk from nursing women determine which may be predisposed to breast cancer?

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts (UMass)-Amherst have teamed up with Ridley-Tree Cancer Center breast surgeon Dr. Katrina Mitchell to examine breast milk from women who have a pathogenic BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation.

Their goal is to uncover more profiles that identify a risk for breast cancer and ideally establish a noninvasive test to use women’s breast milk to detect breast cancer in much earlier stages. Women will provide breast milk and saliva samples during the trial and their BRCA results.

“Breast milk essentially provides a liquid biopsy of the entire breast,” lead researcher Kathleen Arcaro, from the UMass Breastmilk Lab, said in a press release. “We hope to better understand breast tumor development and progression in these at-risk women.” 

The study is recruiting applicants across the United States through social media.

Three young brothers are all fighting the same form of eye cancer that experts have confirmed is hereditary.

Tristen, 5, Caison, 3, and Carter Rush, 7 months old, have retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer that usually develops in early childhood. Their mother, Angie, also had this type of cancer when she was 6 weeks old but is healthy today.

“It was surprising, but we knew that the chances were 50/50,” Angie Rush said in an interview with Good Morning America. “I had been told by doctors most of my life that because of the genetic mutation with the retinoblastoma that I have in both eyes I had a 50/50 chance of passing it on.”

Once a month the boys receive chemotherapy, regular eye checks and laser treatments. Medical bills forced the family to sell their home and live with relatives, but a crowdfunding effort is underway to help support their treatment and living expenses.

“The encouragement, people saying they're thinking of us, it's been wonderful,” Angie Rush said. “The monetary support has been wonderful, too.”
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