Oncology Watch

Pharmacy TimesAugust 2010 Oncology
Volume 76
Issue 8

Iron-Regulating Protein and New Insight into Breast Cancer’s Biology

Women with breast cancer may be able to avoid having to undergo invasive and toxic treatments, based on results from a new study by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC). The results of the study found that testing for levels of ferroportin, the only known protein to eliminate iron from cells, in women with breast cancer may help predict the recurrence of cancer, and may help some women with high levels of the protein avoid invasive or toxic treatments such as chemotherapy. The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and appeared in the online edition of Science Translational Medicine.

Senior author and colead investigator Frank M. Torti, MD, MPH, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at WFUBMC, noted that the level of ferroportin in breast cancer patients may help predict whether these patients will relapse or not and may also help guide therapies in the future. The researchers looked at isolated human breast cancer cells and found that there was a significant reduction of ferroportin in the cancerous cells compared with that of normal breast cells. Next they looked to see whether the reduction in ferroportin in cancer cells directly contributed to the growth of the cancer or whether it was a consequence of the disease.

In human breast cancer tissues, the researchers found that ferroportin levels were lowest in the most aggressive areas of cancer, and they subsequently explored the databases of breast cancer patients. Dr. Torti concluded, “Uniformly, we found that ferroportin levels were a strong predictor of the propensity for a woman’s breast cancer to recur.” The discovery increases the understanding of the basic biology of breast cancer and may eventually help in the treatment of the disease.

Study Shows Value of Oral and Topical Agents in Preventing Skin Cancer

Promising new research from the Skin Diseases Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, was presented at the recent American Academy of Dermatology’s Summer Meeting 2010 in Chicago. It focused on the study of both oral and topical agents, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), eflornithine, and certain natural antioxidants, to provide enhanced sun protection and prevent nonmelanoma skin cancers. Dermatologist Craig A. Elmets, MD, FAAD, chair of the department of dermatology and director of the Skin Diseases Research Center, presented his research on the use of medicine and diet to prevent skin cancer induced by ultraviolet rays.

One NSAID (celecobix), used primarily to treat inflammation associated with arthritis, was found to be an effective chemopreventive agent in patients with basel cell nevus syndrome. “This is encouraging,” said Dr. Elmets, “particularly if this can eventually be applied to basal cell skin cancer in the general population.”

Eflornithine was another drug shown to have beneficial effects in preventing basal cell carcinoma, according to the report; it is a topical and injectable formulation currently used for treatment of excessive hair growth. Additionally, several natural antioxidants are being studied for their chemopreventive properties. These include antioxideant polyphenols in green tea and grape seed extracts as well as pomegranate fruit. Dr. Elmet concluded that further studies would help scientists better understand how to effectively incorporate these new agents into practice.

Oral Cancer Probe Aids Surgery

Approximately 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with tumors of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx annually. Researchers have developed a new laser probe, similar to one created for use with brain tumors, to uncover these cancers during surgery, so that surgeons can see the tissues as they are operating. The fiberoptic probe has been developed by Laura Marcu, PhD, professor of biochemical engineering at UC Davis and Gregory Farwell, MD, of the department of otolaryngology at the UC Davis Cancer Center. The device has been used successfully in a pilot study with 9 cancer patients during surgery.

The probe detects and analyzes fluorescent light emitted by the patient’s tissues in a process called “time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy” and provides information about the types of molecules that are present. The oral cancer study will be published in an upcoming issue of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and the pilot study was funded in part by the Cancer Center and the Clinical and Translational Science Center at the UC Davis School of Medicine and the UC Davis Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology.

Fast Fact: According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 8480 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2010.

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