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American Association for Cancer Research to Participate in Upcoming Twitter Chat on the Promise of Immunotherapy

June 5, 2014
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The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will partner with Time magazine, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, and Cancer Research Institute for a Twitter chat titled “The Promise of Immunotherapy,” Wednesday, June 18, 1-2 p.m. ET.

Immunotherapy is a unique approach to cancer treatment that restores the immune system’s ability to detect and eliminate cancer cells.

Esteban Celis, MD, PhD, a member of the AACR Cancer Immunology Steering Committee and professor of medicine at Georgia Regents University Cancer Center, will represent the AACR on this Twitter chat, which will be moderated by Time magazine’s Senior Health Reporter Alice Park.

Follow the conversation on Twitter and join us: #CIMchat

Follow the AACR on Twitter: @AACR

For more information, please contact Jeremy Moore at or 215-446-7109, or Lauren Riley at or 215-446-7155.


Study Identifies Predictors of Smoking Discontinuation in Novice Adolescent Smokers

June 3, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA — Among new adolescent smokers, boys were more likely to discontinue smoking than girls, and both boys and girls who found package warning labels to be intimidating were also more likely to stop, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Currently, few longitudinal studies identify factors that help or hinder young smokers to stop smoking,” said Jennifer O’Loughlin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. “In our study, we learned that male sex, older age, cigarette package warnings, and participation in team sports helped with smoking discontinuation, while family stress, worry about weight, being overweight, illicit drug use, and cravings for cigarettes hindered.”

Of the students who participated in the Nicotine Dependence in Teens (NDIT) study and who smoked at least occasionally, boys were 80 percent more likely to discontinue smoking than girls, and older adolescents were 30 percent more likely to discontinue than younger adolescents. Participants who said cigarette package warnings made them afraid to smoke and those who participated in team sports were 44 percent and 40 percent more likely to quit, respectively.

“Overall, these results support that healthy family habits, which include nonsmoking as the norm as well as positive exchange and functioning, will help novice smokers discontinue smoking,” said O’Loughlin. “Parents who smoke should understand the effects of their smoking on their children, and families should work together or with professionals to identify and reduce sources of family stress. Parents should engage their children in sports and other healthy activities.

“It is imperative that we better understand the factors that promote smoking discontinuation in girls compared with boys, so that we can design gender-specific interventions,” she added.

O’Loughlin and colleagues next plan to develop a nomogram, a short screening tool, to help health practitioners distinguish between youths who likely need intervention to help them stop smoking from those who do not.

From 1999 to 2000, students ages 12 or 13 from 10 secondary schools in Montreal were enrolled in the NDIT study. Of the 1,293 participants, 706—262 boys and 444 girls—who reported smoking at enrollment or who initiated smoking during follow-up were included in this study. After collecting baseline data including self-report questionnaires and anthropometric measurements, the researchers collected follow-up data every three months for the next five years, until the participants completed secondary school. The analysis included data for 620 participants.

Forty-three percent of the participants’ parents smoked, 87 percent had friends who smoked, and 78 percent reported often seeing their teachers or other school staff smoking.

The researchers found that 40 percent of the study participants discontinued smoking during follow-up. Discontinuation was defined as a student reporting no cigarette smoking in at least four consecutive follow-up cycles over a one-year period.

Students who reported family stress, who worried about weight, who were overweight, who used illicit drugs, who had higher tolerance to cigarette smoke, or who had other nicotine dependence symptoms were 10 to 30 percent less likely to discontinue smoking.

“The predictors we identified make good sense and several are amenable to intervention, which is good news,” said O’Loughlin.

This study was funded by the Canadian Cancer Society. O’Loughlin declares no conflicts of interest.

Exposure to Organic Solvents Before First Childbirth May Increase Hormone-related Breast Cancer Risk

May 30, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA — Among women with a family history of breast cancer, those who worked with organic solvents prior to their first full-term birth had an increased risk for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, according to data published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Christine C. Ekenga, Ph.D.

Christine C. Ekenga, Ph.D.

“The time between puberty and before first birth is an important period of development when the breast may be more vulnerable to chemical exposures,” said Christine C. Ekenga, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the epidemiology branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “We observed that women who started working with solvents before their first full-term birth had a greater risk for breast cancer.

“We identified several occupations where solvent exposure was associated with an elevated risk for breast cancer,” added Ekenga. “These include clinical laboratory technicians, maids and house cleaners, and production [factory] workers. All women should be familiar with the chemicals and hazards that are present in their workplace, and use personal protective equipment and minimize exposures when appropriate.”

Women who worked with organic solvents prior to their first full-term birth had about a 40 percent increased risk for developing hormone receptor-positive, invasive breast cancer, and all women who worked in clinical laboratories had a twofold increased risk for this type of breast cancer.

“Our study is an important first step toward understanding how the timing of chemical exposures may impact breast cancer risk,” said Ekenga. “We hope that our findings will generate additional interest in the possible role of solvents and other chemicals in the etiology of breast cancer.”

To study the relationship between occupational exposure to solvents and breast cancer, Ekenga and colleagues used data from the Sister Study led by Dale P. Sandler, Ph.D., at the NIEHS, a prospective cohort study of 50,884 initially breast cancer-free sisters of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Participants were enrolled between 2003 and 2009, and they answered questionnaires about their occupational history and other potential breast cancer risk factors. Questions included duration of solvent exposure at the job, weekly frequency of exposure, and age at first job involving organic solvents. Participants were followed up annually for health updates. Evaluable data were available for 47,661 women.

Of the study participants, 1,798 were diagnosed with breast cancer during follow-up, of whom 1,255 had invasive cancer. Of the invasive tumors, 77 percent were hormone-receptor positive.

After adjusting for confounders including race/ethnicity, parity, exposure to tobacco smoke, and working night shifts, overall, there was no increased risk for invasive breast cancer from lifetime exposure to solvents, but the researchers found exposure to solvents prior to first full-term birth to be a critical period for breast cancer risk. A nonsignificant elevated risk was observed for women who worked as maids and housekeeping cleaners, and those who had factory-related occupations.

“Additional research is needed to characterize the types of solvents used by women in different occupational settings and the levels at which women are exposed to solvents in the workplace,” said Ekenga.

This study was funded by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH. Ekenga declares no conflicts of interest.

Alterations in LRIG1 Gene May Increase the Risk for Breast Cancer Relapse and Death

May 30, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA — Women whose early-stage breast cancers had reduced numbers of copies of the LRIG1 gene were more likely to have a relapse or die of their disease, according to data published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Tumors with metastatic capability have cells within them that have stem cell-like properties, which resist chemotherapy, tend to sit quietly in the tumor, and are most likely the source of metastatic spread,” said Patricia A. Thompson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson. “LRIG1 is a protein that is thought to control the growth of these cells and keep them quiet.”

Human cells have two copies of most genes. An increase or decrease in copy-number of certain genes is implicated in several diseases, including cancer.

Among women who were diagnosed with stage 1 or stage 2 breast cancers, those whose tumors had loss of LRIG1 copy-numbers were almost twofold more likely to have a relapse, 2.39-fold more likely to have a relapse five years after diagnosis or later, and 1.55-fold more likely to die of their disease, compared with those whose tumors did not have loss of LRIG1 copy-numbers. Stage 1 and stage 2 breast cancers are generally considered to be at a lower risk for a relapse. These results could help clinicians identify those at increased risk and monitor them more carefully.

“First, we found that the loss of LRIG1 gene copy-numbers in tumors of early-stage patients was associated with a higher risk of disease relapse, metastasis, and death,” said Thompson. “Second, we observed that the patients whose tumors had an increase in the copy-numbers of LRIG1 had much better clinical and pathology characteristics, generally. This suggested that the gain of LRIG1 copy-numbers may contribute to the lower risk observed in these patients.”

Thompson and colleagues used breast cancer tissue samples from 971 women who were treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center for stage 1 or stage 2 breast cancers between 1985 and 2000. This analysis was a joint collaboration between investigators at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and the University of Umeå in Sweden.  

They used a high-resolution molecular inversion probe array with 300,000 probes, 12 of which detected alterations in LRIG1. This technology is best suited for samples that have been stored for long periods of time and was vital for this project, said Thompson.

Of the 971 samples, 3.7 percent had gain, and 8.9 percent had losses in LRIG1 copy-numbers. The researchers also found that LRIG1 copy-number loss was more common in triple-negative (13.8 percent) and HER2-positive (12.3 percent) breast cancers, which have worse prognosis, compared with luminal A and luminal B subtypes (less than 10 percent).

LRIG1 copy-number loss was also more prevalent in samples from black and Hispanic women (12.8 and 12.2 percent, respectively), who often have worse breast cancer outcomes, compared with samples from non-Hispanic white women (7.7 percent).

The researchers found that LRIG1 copy-number loss was significantly associated with disease relapse, distant metastasis, and death.

The researchers next used data from pooled, publicly available data sets yielding 1,576 samples to analyze alterations in LRIG1 and found that low expression of this gene was associated with increased distant metastasis and death, compared with medium or high expression. “Given that these results are such a strong replication of our findings from really old samples, we were very excited,” said Thompson.

Outcomes from these two analyses did not change even after adjusting for known factors that influence relapse and metastasis, leading the researchers to conclude that alteration in LRIG1 copy-numbers is an independent risk factor for breast cancer metastasis and death in otherwise low-risk patients.

“Measurement of the expression levels of LRIG1 as RNA or protein would be more clinically relevant and we would like to see the development of such an assay,” said Thompson. “Efforts in developing LRIG1 as a tumor marker would help in developing new agents to kill or silence these cells as a means to prevent breast cancer relapse and metastasis.

“Our ability to identify patients as being at high risk for relapse versus at those at very low risk is dramatically improving,” Thompson added.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Susan G. Komen. Thompson declares no conflicts of interest.

Five or More Blistering Sunburns Before Age 20 May Increase Melanoma Risk by 80 Percent

May 29, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA — The risk of developing the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, was more closely related to sun exposure in early life than in adulthood in young Caucasian women, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Abrar A. Qureshi, M.D., MPH

Abrar A. Qureshi, M.D., MPH

“Our results suggest that sun exposures in both early life and adulthood were predictive of nonmelanoma skin cancers, whereas melanoma risk was predominantly associated with sun exposure in early life in a cohort of young women,” said Abrar A. Qureshi, M.D., MPH, professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at Warren Alpert Medical School of the Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

After following 108,916 Caucasian registered nurses for about 20 years, this study found that those who had at least five blistering sunburns when they were 15 to 20 years old had a 68 percent increased risk for basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin, and an 80 percent increased risk for melanoma. Those who were exposed to the highest amounts of cumulative ultraviolet (UV) radiation in adulthood had no increased risk for melanoma, but had a 2.35-fold and 2.53-fold increased risk for developing BCC and SCC of the skin.

“Pattern of sun exposure was not uniformly associated with the risk for all the three main skin cancers we see in the United States, suggesting that there are some differences in the pathophysiology of these skin cancers,” said Qureshi. “An individual’s risk of developing skin cancer depends on both host and environmental risk factors. Persons with high host-risk traits, such as red hair color, higher number of moles, and high sunburn susceptibility, should pay more attention to avoid excessive sun exposure, especially early in life.”

Participants were from the Nurses’ Health Study II. At the time of registration they were between the ages of 25 and 42 and resided in 14 different states. At registration, the participants responded to a baseline questionnaire about their medical histories and potential risk factors for skin cancers, including number of moles on legs, number of blistering sunburns between age 15 and 20, and family history of melanoma.

Updated health information was collected every two years for about 20 years. During this time, participants answered additional questions related to skin cancer risk, including updated family history, tanning bed use, smoking and alcohol consumption habits, and body mass index.

The researchers took into account the duration participants spent residing at different locations in the United States during follow-up to calculate the cumulative UV exposure for each individual, and then grouped the participants under three categories of UV exposure: low, medium, and high baseline annual UV flux.

About 24 percent of the participants had experienced painful blisters as a child or adolescent, about 10 percent had more than five blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20, and about 24 percent had used tanning beds.

Of the study participants, 6,955 were diagnosed with BCC, 880 were diagnosed with SCC of the skin, and 779 were diagnosed with melanoma. Of those with melanoma, 445 had invasive cancer.

After adjusting for potential confounders, Qureshi and colleagues found a strong dose-response relationship between cumulative UV flux and risk for BCC and SCC of the skin, but no such association was seen for melanoma. Those who had at least five blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 had increased likelihood for developing any of the three types of skin cancers, but the greatest risk was for developing melanoma.

The researchers also found that the host-risk profile may alter an individual’s risk for developing sun exposure-associated, nonmelanoma skin cancers.

“Parents may need to be advised to pay more attention to protection from early-life sun exposure for their kids in order to reduce the likelihood of developing melanoma as they grow up,” said Qureshi. “Older individuals should also be cautious with their sun exposure, because cumulative sun exposure increases skin cancer risk as well.”

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Qureshi serves as a consultant for Abbott, Centocor, Novartis, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recipient of First AACR Young Champion in Cancer Research Award is Honored Guest at White House Science Fair

May 27, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) congratulates Elana Simon, the inaugural recipient of the AACR Young Champion in Cancer Research Award, on being invited to attend the 2014 White House Science Fair being hosted by President Obama today, Tuesday, May 27.

Simon was invited to the event at the White House after being recognized by the AACR last month for her pioneering efforts to further the understanding of fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, and for serving as an inspiration to both junior and senior cancer researchers who are working hard to conquer cancer.

“Elana Simon’s journey from cancer patient to a young pioneering researcher has inspired the cancer research community,” said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the AACR. “Elana brought together a multidisciplinary team that rapidly achieved a scientific breakthrough with the potential to transform the diagnosis and treatment of a rare form of liver cancer. The AACR is delighted that Elana’s stellar contribution to advancing cancer science and medicine has been recognized with an invitation to the White House Science Fair.”

Six years ago, when she was just 12, Simon was diagnosed with fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare type of liver cancer that predominantly affects adolescents and young adults. She is now cancer-free and a co-author on a recently published Science paper that reported the identification of a chimeric transcript that characterizes the disease.

Simon was a central figure in bringing together fellow patients, their doctors, surgeons, and basic researchers from numerous disciplines, including cellular biophysics and genomics, to make the groundbreaking discovery that has the potential to change the way in which fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma is diagnosed and treated. Her ability to unite people from diverse fields and perspectives to rapidly achieve a scientific breakthrough highlights the importance of team science in the fight against cancer.

The AACR established the Young Champion in Cancer Research Award this year to recognize an individual who has made an early contribution to cancer research and enhanced public understanding about the disease. Simon was presented with the inaugural award during the AACR Annual Meeting 2014, which was held in San Diego, California, April 5-9.

The first White House Science Fair was held in 2009 when President Obama launched his Educate to Innovate campaign to inspire more girls and boys to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. The 2014 White House Science Fair will include a specific focus on girls and women who are excelling in STEM and inspiring the next generation with their work.

Pancreatic Cancer Projected to Become Second Leading Cause of Cancer-related Death in the United States by 2030

May 19, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA — An analysis projects pancreatic and liver cancers to become second and third leading causes of cancer-related death in the United States by 2030, respectively, behind lung cancer, which will remain the number one killer, according to data published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D., MBA

Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D., MBA

According to the projections by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in Manhattan Beach, Calif., which conducted the research, breast, prostate, and lung cancers will remain the top three cancer diagnoses in 2030. Colorectal cancer, which is currently the fourth leading cancer diagnosis, will be replaced by thyroid cancer, followed by melanoma and uterine cancers in fifth and sixth places, respectively. Lung cancer will remain the top killer, but pancreatic and liver cancers are projected to surpass breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers to become the second and third leading causes of cancer death, respectively.

“The projections for deaths from pancreatic and liver cancers are startling,” said Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D., MBA, vice president of scientific and medical affairs at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “This study is a call to action to the scientific and clinical communities, as well as the population at large, to increase attention, awareness, and ultimately progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer.”

The researchers estimated the cancer incidence and death rates by taking into account two important factors: The first is changes in demographics, caused by an increase in the number of aging baby boomers and increase in minority populations, some of whom have higher rates of cancer incidence and death. The second factor is changes in the average annual percentage of cancer incidence and deaths, influenced by factors such as better screening and prevention methods, and prevalence of smoking and viral infections.

The projected decrease in colorectal cancer incidence is attributed to advances in screening and the projected increase in thyroid cancer incidence is a consequence of increased diagnosis, which is not accompanied by an increase in deaths, explained Matrisian.

“Overall, it is encouraging that the cancer death rate in the United States is declining each year, and the numbers of deaths caused by several major cancers are following that trend and dropping,” said Matrisian. “The scientific and clinical research communities must bring successes from other cancer types to bear on tackling pancreatic and liver cancers and improving outcomes for patients.”

Historically, pancreatic cancer is a disease that is understudied and underfunded, explained Matrisian. The pancreas is located deep within the abdomen and is difficult to access and visualize by imaging modalities. In addition, pancreatic tumors are surrounded and infiltrated by dense stromal tissue that is thought to impede drug delivery. This is further complicated by data suggesting pancreatic tumors metastasize early in the disease course.

“The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has a comprehensive approach to fighting this disease through research, patient support, community outreach, and advocacy for a cure,” Matrisian added. “In an effort to double pancreatic cancer survival by 2020, the network is intensifying efforts to heighten awareness, raise funds for comprehensive private research, and advocate for dedicated federal research to advance early diagnostics, better treatments, and increase chances of survival.”

This study was funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Matrisian declares no conflicts of interest.