Cancer Myths About Antioxidant Supplements Need to Die

The essence of a healthy diet is a bit of a mystery. Everyone knows that a diet full of plant foods—fruits, vegetables, and nuts—is good for you, as it can lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments. But scientists, being scientists, want to know the exact reason, and they have long eyed antioxidants. These chemicals, found in high amounts in some plants, quench harmful molecules that can run amok in cells, fatally damaging DNA and the cellular machinery.

As the hypothesis that antioxidants offer health benefits took root in the minds of consumers, however, it shriveled in labs. Mounds of studies, conducted over decades, have found no conclusive link between antioxidants and lower disease risks. And, this month, two studies add to evidence that antioxidants may actually increase the spread and severity of some cancers.

Source: Cancer myths about antioxidant supplements need to die

What I’m missing in this story is whether free radicals can actually promote the growth of cancer cells as healthy cells are damaged. Yes, I get that the downside is that antioxidants can protect growing cancer cells, but what about before cancer cells develop? In other words, can the antioxidant protection against free radicals help prevent the formation of cancer cells in the first place? Or is there no link?

I’d like to point out another medical truism: if men were mice, we’d have cured cancer a long time ago.

Antioxidants May Lead to Cancer Spread, Study Says

Since the term “antioxidants” made the leap from the realm of biochemistry labs and into the public consciousness in the  1990s, Americans have come to believe that more is better when it comes to consuming the substance that comes in things like acai berries, green tea and leafy veggies.

A provocative new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature raises important questions about that assumption.

Source: The latest study about antioxidants is terrifying. Scientists think they may boost cancer cells to spread faster.

This article leaves off a couple of important points on the research

  1. Anti-oxidants increase the rate at which metastases form, and do not appreciably affect the growth of the primary tumor.
  2. The study focused on melanoma xenografts only, some of which are highly metastatic. This will probably apply to other kinds of cancer as well, but that needs to be more fully investigated.
  3. N-acetylcysteine isn’t just an antioxidant.

Here’s the journal article itself (behind a paywall).

Study: Breast Implants Linked with Suicide

Loren Lipworth of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee and colleagues followed up on 3,527 Swedish women who had cosmetic breast implant surgery between 1965 and 1993. They looked at death certificates to analyze causes of death among women with breast implants.

Only 24 of the women had committed suicide after an average of 19 years, but this worked out to triple the risk compared to the average population, they reported. Doctors who perform cosmetic breast surgery may want to monitor patients closely or screen them for suicide risk, Lipworth said.

Women with breast implants also had a tripled risk of death from alcohol and drug use.

Source: Breast implants linked with suicide in study

Considering how sensational the headline is, I really wanted to point out the details of the study.  The end of the article mentions that cosmetic breast implant surgery was the second most common cosmetic procedure (behind liposuction) in 2006.  But it doesn’t mention how common the procedure was within the timespan that was looked at, which would provide some insight into acceptance within our culture.  I don’t remember people discussing fake vs natural until the late 80s or early 90s, and it was the silicone ban that really brought the surgery into the public view.  Then there’s the fact that the statistic is based on 24 out of 3,547 women committing suicide…

These days, some girls are getting face and/or breast augmentation surgery for graduation presents.  And it’s not a North American thing either – South Korea in particular, it’s widely accepted that cosmetic surgery is in a girls future.  The rest of us get by on tricks and better bras.

I had to explain once to a co-worker why cosmetic surgery was better than a TV.  He did not comprehend that cosmetic surgery was an investment in yourself, and while cosmetic surgery isn’t common for guys now – it likely will be in the future.  I wonder when we’re going to stop telling our kids that we should not “judge a book by its cover” when we have so much evidence to support that attractive people are treated better.

The US Is Finally Getting Access to a Promising Cancer Drug From Cuba

Tourism isn’t the only industry eager to benefit from the relaxing of the decades-long trade embargo against Cuba. Medical researchers on both of sides of the Straits of Florida now have the chance to collaborate with previously off-limits colleagues. Of particular interest to the U.S. is a Cuban lung cancer drug that took 25 years to develop.

Source: The US Is Finally Getting Access to a Promising Cancer Drug From Cuba

Fit Middle-Aged Men: Lower Risk for Some Cancers

Very fit men in their late 40s are less likely to get lung cancer and colorectal cancer than unfit men, a study in JAMA Oncology suggests.

Their high fitness levels also appear to increase their chances of surviving cancer if they are diagnosed later on.

University of Vermont researchers said even small improvements in fitness could help to reduce cancer risk.

Source: Fit middle-aged men ‘at lower risk for some cancers’

Prostate cancer gets a mention that fitness didn’t prevent so much, but in every case there’s a belief that fit men are more likely to be testing often if at all to catch things as early as possible.

It’s well known that people in better shape do better.  What’s “better”?  Low body fat, endurance, and a good diet are the best indicators of being “healthy”.  You can always get a work-up to determine blood pressure, cholesterol, and any vitamin deficiencies. It’s entirely possible to be in good shape physically, and yet be very unhealthy. People in better shape, with stronger immune systems, get higher doses of chemotherapy because they can tolerate the side effects better.  The higher the dose you can tolerate, the better the treatment outcome (generally) because you’re more likely to kill more cancer cells.

FYI: The recommendation for a hereditary history of colon cancer is generally to get a colonoscopy every 1-2 years, starting at 10 years before youngest case in the family.

Sushi Parasite Inspires Worm Test for Cancer

Dogs do it. Rats do it. Even some people seem to be able to sniff out cancer and other diseases. Now we can add the humble roundworm to the list of super-smellers.

Japanese researchers have discovered that Caenorhabditis elegans worms can detect cancer in people’s urine. They are working with technology companies Hitachi and Johnan to turn the finding into a diagnostic test that can be used to catch the disease in its early stages.

…The team are now investigating whether different cancer types release different odours, and whether this has an effect on the worms. They hope to have a commercial product ready by 2019. The idea would be that users send a urine sample to the company and get the results back the next day, says Hirotsu.

Source: Sushi parasite inspires worm test for cancer

It was only recently that dogs were trained to sniff out cancer, though dogs have been trained companions for detecting low blood sugar for diabetics in the past.  Much as I like dogs, the worms are a much better idea for a diagnostic test.  Being smaller means less space needed, and likely less resources to keep.  Don’t have to walk the worms 😉

Here’s to a cost-effective, non-invasive, diagnostic test that posted a 96% success rate.  No word about what stage the respective cancer was at, but the ability to test and test often is still pretty good.

I’m interested to see how the commercial aspect turns out for worms that have been used in research since 1963.  I shudder at the thought of repeating the breast cancer testing fiasco, and hope they see that the volume of commercialized test sales could offset upscale pricing.

How A Terminal Illness Can Change Your Perception Of Time

Last week, Paul Kalanithi – a writer and new dad, who recently completed his residency in neurosurgery at Stanford – died from metastatic lung cancer. In this video, released last month, Kalanithi addresses the “strange relativity” that accompanied his diagnosis.

The video is full of insights about how Kalanithi’s diagnosis altered his relationship with time. These insights are of course all the more affecting in light of his various roles as a doctor, patient, father, and husband.

Source: How A Terminal Illness Can Change Your Perception Of Time

This is the video: