Friday Frontline: Honeybee Venom Can Kill Cancer Cells, At-Home Hair Dye Not Associated with Cancer Risk in Women and More

September 4, 2020

From researchers identifying honeybee venom’s potential to kill cancer cells in a lab to a new study showing cancer risk was not significantly associated with use of permanent hair dye in women, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.

Researchers were able to kill cancer cells with the help of an unsuspected ally — bees.

Venom from honeybees and bumblebees has a compound in it called melittin that researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Western Australia studied to see how it may impact cancer cells, including aggressive breast cancer cells.

The researchers analyzed more than 300 honeybees and bumblebees and found a range of venoms that killed cancer cells. In one instance, a concentration of the venom killed cancer cells in an hour with minimal harm to other cells. However, other dosage levels increased toxicity in other cells. Melittin removed from the venom was also found to be effective in “shutting down” or disrupting regular cancer cell growth, according to lead researcher Ciara Duffy.

“It provides another wonderful example of where compounds in nature can be used to treat human diseases,” said Peter Klinken, chief scientist of Western Australia, in an interview. However, these are early days for the research, and it remains to be seen if the compound can be replicated outside of the lab.

The National Cancer Institute announced results from a series of scientific papers that showed some people probably got cancer from radioactive fallout that wafted across New Mexico after the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945.

“The nuclear detonation exposed residents of New Mexico to varying levels of radiation from radioactive fallout, depending, in part, on where they lived in the state, how much time they spent inside protective structures in the immediate months after the test, and how much radiation entered their bodies through contaminated food and water,” a summary of the research stated.

The detonation was a test of the atomic bomb that led to the end of World War II. But in the 75 years since the tests, residents of New Mexico impacted by the fallout have been advocating for recompense from the impact.

The downwinders, the term used for people in the immediate area downwind of the test site, have seen unusually high rates of cancer but also believe infant mortality has been impacted in the area. Legislation is currently being considered to help those impacted by the detonation.

Colon cancer survivors are calling for more awareness and discussion around the disease in the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s death due to stage 4 cancer.

“The very word ‘colonoscopy’ is still a colloquialism for the thing you'd least prefer to do in life. Is it any wonder there is still a reluctance to normalize conversation about it?” said stage 3 colon cancer survivor Sara Stewart in a column for CNN.

Survivors like Stewart are hoping that more people, especially young people, take screening for colon cancer seriously in order to find the disease in early stages where it is treatable. The American Cancer Society just two years ago lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45.

Stewart herself was hesitant to take her own symptoms and warning signs seriously. Her doctors told her that the abdominal pain she was experiencing was most likely due to irritable bowel syndrome — she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 45. Stewart, and many other survivors, are calling on more people to insist on getting their colonoscopies and to normalize discussion around the disease as cases are projected to rise by 90% in the next decade.

A new study has shown that women using at-home hairy dyes are unlikely to be putting themselves at risk for cancer.

Researchers reviewed data from 117,200 female nurses from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston over 36 years to analyze their exposure to hair dyes and cancer. Results showed that there was no risk in increase of cancers, or dying from cancers, in women who used permanent hair dyes compared to those who didn’t. Specifically, researchers looked at the increased risk of bladder, brain, colon, kidney, lung, blood/immune system and most skin or breast cancers.

However, some risk of cancer was associated to the permanent hair dyes. Researchers identified a slight increased risk of basal cell carcinoma was associated with permanent dyes, with the risk higher in women with naturally light hair. Use of permanent dyes was also associated with increased risk for ovarian cancer, estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative and hormone receptor negative breast cancers.

Paul Pharaoh, a professor of cancer epidemiology, said in an interview that the results aren’t that compelling.

"The reported associations are very weak and given the number of associations reported in this manuscript they are very likely to be chance findings," said Pharaoh, who was not affiliated with the research, in the interview. “Even if they were real findings the associations may not be cause-and-effect, and even if they were causal associations, the magnitude of the effects are so small that any risk would be trivial."


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