Friday Frontline: Preliminary Evidence Shows Connection Between Cancer Recurrence and Stress-Related Hormones, Texas Mayor Tests Positive for COVID-19 After Cancer Diagnosis, and More

December 4, 2020
Conor Killmurray

From a recently published study showing preliminary connections between elevated levels of stress-related hormones and cancer recurrence, to a Texas mayor receiving a diagnosis of cancer and COVID-19, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.

Recently published data have shown connections between hormones related to rising stress levels that reawaken dormant tumor cells that may cause disease recurrence in patients with cancer.

Researchers from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia analyzed a small group of patients with lung cancer and found that 17 of them had their tumor return within three years of surgery and had higher levels of norepinephrine, a hormone released when the body is stressed. Elevated levels of norepinephrine activate cells known as neutrophils that release a special type of lipids that awaken sleeping cancer cells. Assessing mice and patients, researchers are confident in their preliminary findings and believe that further study could make a case for monitoring stress hormones in patients with cancer.

“We all undergo stress, and some handle it better and some handle it worse. What is very important is that stress alone doesn’t reawaken dormant cells,” explained Michela Perego, a molecular biologist at the Wistar Institute and lead author of the study, in an interview. “You need stress hormones, but you also need neutrophils, and you need them to be activated and then for them to produce this specific lipid to turn on tumor cells.”

Iowa high school student unknowingly played past football season with cancer.

A three-sport athlete at Martensdale-St. Marys High School in Iowa, Brooks Trom, 18, recently said that while he was playing this past season, his body didn’t feel right and that he felt like he wasn’t recovering through the season. After the season, a sore throat became a positive test for mono that then led to a test due to his white blood cell count, which then became a leukemia diagnosis.

Trom is currently isolated in the hospital for seven weeks, but his community has come together to help raise funds for his medical expenses through GoFundMe. His basketball team organized half the town to visit him at the Blank Children’s Hospital and wave to him from the door. “I have been buddies with these guys since I was in preschool. We have played every sport together. They’re basically my family. When I saw them there I could tell they were very emotional too,” he said in an interview.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is set to pilot a blood test in 165,000 patients that may help identify various types of cancer.

The Galleri blood test, developed by United States-based Grail, will be distributed to 140,000 people aged 50 to79 years who have no symptoms to see if the test can detect cancer early. The NHS will administer the blood test over the next three years.

The remaining 25,000 participants will have possible cancer symptoms and the blood test may help speed up their diagnosis after they have been referred to a hospital. According to the NHS, around half of cancers in the U.K. are diagnosed in stage 1 or 2 but they’re hoping to increase that by three quarters of cancers by 2028.

"The Galleri blood test is a test that might be able to detect cancer in the blood in individuals with early cancer, though the evidence that it does this effectively is weak," Paul Pharoah, professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said in an interview questioning the emphasis the NHS is placing on this test. Some experts are questioning its efficacy of identifying cancer at stage 1, but others hope that the data collected from this test can help bolster similar methods in the future.

Diagnosed with blood cancer in January, Amarillo, Texas Mayor Ginger Nelson recently announced she tested positive for COVID-19.

After receiving an initial negative result from a COVID-19 test, Nelson says she later tested positive after a second test was administered after her symptoms worsened. She announced her husband also tested positive. In January, Nelson announced that she was diagnosed with blood cancer but that her prognosis was good, and says that her symptoms haven’t worsened.

"You might think you're fine. But the last thing I know that many of us would want to do is to put them in a position where they would get this virus and not be able to recover," Nelson said in an interview. In the Texas panhandle, where Amarillo is, 39% of all hospitalizations are due to COVID-19 and Nelson is urging Amarillo citizens to not travel for the holidays and stay home to flatten the curve.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.