On February 7 we celebrated World Cancer Day. The declaration and theme of this year's important day is to dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer, and uses the tagline "Cancer -- Did you know?" This day gives anyone who has been touched by cancer a chance to collectively call for improvement of general knowledge around cancer and to raise awareness about some of the misconceptions about the disease.
On a global level, World Cancer Day targets four myths: That cancer's just a health issue; it's a disease of the wealthy, elderly and that found in developed countries; it's a death sentence; and it's my fate.
As an example, data from a recent international study, and initiative of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (includes Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) is very revealing. The data reveals there are a variety of reasons why people delay going to the doctor. Some believe that cancer means a death sentence. Others think that if they were to be diagnosed with cancer, the treatment would actually be worse than the cancer itself. Other reasons to delay visiting the doctor are that they are worried about what may be found, or that people are just too busy.
So, if I get this right, the early signs of cancer are being ignored, and people are putting off going to see their doctors because of a variety of fears and their busy schedules.
Having been through cancer, I can attest that nudging yourself out the door was the hardest thing I ever did. I was losing blood from a breast nipple. I knew it wasn't normal. I was also training for a half-marathon. I had read in my running books that this was common among women that were training hard.
It's not like the blood was trickling out constantly. It was a little speck, hardly visible at first. But I went to the doctor anyway. He actually agreed with me that it was quite possible that I was chafing as a result of running, and told me to get a more supportive bra.
And he sent me for a mammogram.
I'd like to say that's how I was diagnosed, but it wasn't. The mammogram came back negative. Turns out I have dense breast tissue, but didn't find this out until I WAS diagnosed.
So I had to push for more testing. You see, I knew something was wrong. We are very in tune with our bodies, if we just sit back and feel. Two weeks after my "normal mammogram" I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
And through all this, was I afraid? Yes, I was terrified.
Was I worried about what they would find? Absolutely, although I inherently knew what was going on; I was just in denial.
Was I too busy to see the doctor? Oh yes! I was working 90 hours per week in a high stress job. The excuse, "I have no time" would have been easy.
Was the treatment worse than the cancer. No. It's not fun; it's just different.
Cancer is not a death sentence. I am a five-year cancer survivor, with intentions to live a full and happy life. Would I be here now if I chose to ignore the signs? Most likely not. And look at all I'd be missing.
So find it in your heart to treat yourself right. If not for you, then for those you love. My daughters were young when I was diagnosed. They're now 18, 16 and almost 13 years old. They need me. They love me. They would miss me terribly if I was gone.
I am here to attest that you have the strength to do it. Whether you initiate it, or that kick in the butt come from someone you love or respect, that doctor appointment can be made. It's not easy, but once you start, you have owned the situation, and more strength will come to you. It will get easier.
And all those myths will be dispelled.
Triple negative breast cancer is a difficult form of cancer to treat, but for the first time ever, an international team of scientists have decoded its genetic makeup. Knowing more about these genes could change the way the disease is diagnosed and change treatments for the next generation, creating more personalized care.
Dr. Michael Taylor, based in Toronto, was part of the international MAGIC (Medulloblastoma Advanced Genomics International Consortium) team of experts that identified abnormalities that lead to the development of the malignant brain tumour medulloblastama. This discovery has identified more effective treatments and may spare children the side effects of unnecessary radiation.
Though there are typically poor survival rates for those living with pancreatic cancer, new findings may improve these rates of survival. An NCIC Clinical Trials Group study found that patients with a rare form of pancreatic cancer – periampullary adenocarcinoma – live longer if they are treated with surgery as well as chemotherapy.
A trial led by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group found that patients with limited-stage Hodgkin lymphoma live longer when treated with standard chemotherapy, compared with those who are also receiving radiation. This will allow patients to avoid long-term side effects of radiation.
A study led by Dr. Camilla Zimmermann in Toronto found that Canadian oncologists refer terminally ill cancer patients to palliative care too late — sometimes not until the final few days. The availability and comprehensiveness of palliative care services were identified as key barriers. It was found that referring patients earlier allows care teams to relieve symptoms and distress, provide appropriate social services, and give advanced care advice to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.
Muscle wasting, also referred to as Cachexia, is the loss of weight or muscle often induced by cancer. Approximately 30 per cent of people with cancer die due to muscle wasting. Dr. Imed Gallouzi and his research team in Montreal found that a natural product from sea sponges prevents muscle wasting in mice. This study is the first to show a potential treatment option for those affected by muscle wasting.
Dr. Mick Bhatia, an international leader in cancer stem cell research, discovered that the drug thioridazine can successfully kill cancer stem cells responsible for initiating leukemias without causing any harm to normal stem cells. This is an important discovery, as cancer stem cells can sustain the growth of cancer and are also a common factor in cancer recurrence.
Dr.Torsten Nielsen and his Vancouver-based research team have unravelled how the genetic mutation which leads to the growth of a rare and often fatal form of cancer (synovial sarcoma) interacts with proteins to cause cancer. The researchers found that there are certain drugs used to suppress these proteins that can kill tumour cells.
Dr. John White and his research group in Montreal studied a protein called the cMYC protein, which is elevated in at least 50 per cent of cancers. Researchers found that vitamin D can block cMYC. This evidence will spark future studies to understand the role Vitamin D plays in stopping cancer development and growth.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that can become severe if not treated quickly. Dr. Aaron Schimmer and colleagues in Toronto tested several drugs to determine whether any of them could target AML cells. The researchers found that mefloquine, a medication generally used to treat malaria, specifically causes AML cancer cells to burst.
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