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Cancer Facts for People Over 50

Senior Care

By M. RODGERS
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) research center on aging,  “Cancer strikes people of all ages, but you are more likely to get cancer as you get older, even if no one in your family has had it. The good news is that the number of cancer cases and death rates are both going   down. No matter what your age, the chances of surviving cancer are better today than before.”
   
The latest data from cancer researchers show that male incidence rates have gone down for cancers of the lung, colon and rectum, oral cavity and pharynx, stomach, and brain, while cancers have gone up for kidney, pancreas and liver cancers, as well as melanoma of the skin.
  
For women, cancer rates have gone down for breast, lung, colorectal, uterine, cervical, bladder and oral cavity cancers, but increased for kidney, pancreas and thyroid cancers as well as for leukemia and melanomas of the skin.
   
Here are the symptoms to look for. While these warning signs are probably not a symptom of cancer, they do warrant a visit to the doctor:

•  A thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body

•  A new mole or a change in an existing mole

•  A sore that does not heal

•  Hoarseness or a cough that does not go away

•  Changes in bowel or bladder habits

•  Discomfort after eating

•  A hard time swallowing

•  Weight gain or loss with no known reason

•  Unusual bleeding or discharge

•  Feeling weak or very tired

More people are surviving cancer than ever before, due to early detection and more effective treatments. According to cancerprogress.net, today, two out of three people live a minimum of five years after diagnosis, reducing this country’s cancer death rate by 18 percent since the early 90s. Five year survival rates for some childhood cancers, breast cancer and testicular cancer are now over 90 percent.
   
Unfortunately, half a million people in this country still die from cancer every year and the disease is projected to become the number one cause of death.

Advances in Treatment
   
Biological understanding of the disease has greatly improved since the National Cancer Act of 1971 was approved, leading to an influx of investment in cancer research. An overview of major improvements includes:

Drug Approvals:  Many new cancer drugs were approved in the last decade, bringing the total to over 170 drugs.

Targeted Therapies: More effective treatments are targeting the genetics of many cancers, providing better control and fewer side effects.

Radiation Therapy:  Advancements in technology allows radiation to be tailored to each patient’s tumor type resulting in improved
survival rates and fewer serious side effects.

Surgical advances: Cancer surgery is more precise with fewer
complications.

Side-effects management: Patients have less nausea, pain and other side effects.

Multidisciplinary treatment: Combinations of treatments geared to the individual including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and/or targeted drugs extend survival and chances for a cure.
—Source: cancerprogress.net

News from ASCO
The 48th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) was held in Chicago June 1-5. New studies highlighting findings that will lead to improvements in
the patient experience and identifying potential risks for development of cancers in the future were released at the convention. Some key study findings include:

•   Newer, More Costly Drugs No Better than Standard First Line Therapy for Locally Advanced or Metastatic Breast Cancer: A phase III randomized trial found weekly administration of either of two newer and significantly more costly agents was not superior to standard weekly dosing of paclitaxel as first-line therapy for locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

• Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor Anti-Depressant is First Effective Treatment for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy: A phase III study found that duloxetine (Cymbalta) is effective in treating painful chemotherapy- induced peripheral neuropathy. Duloxetine is currently approved for the treatment of depression and painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

•  Low Levels of Radiation Therapy Can Increase Risk of Breast Cancer among Young Women Treated for Childhood Cancer: A study finds that female survivors of childhood cancer treated with radiation to the chest had a high risk of developing breast cancer at a young age, comparable to that of BRCA1/2 mutation carriers. The findings also suggest that more survivors may be affected than previously thought.

•  ASCO Tests New Quality Measures to Encourage Improved Capture of Family Histories and Referral to Genetic Counseling: A study reported findings of the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®) pilot that tested new measures to evaluate the practice of family history taking and referral for genetic counseling and testing in patients with either breast cancer or colorectal cancer—cancers that have a strong family history component.

•  In an early study, crizotinib induces strong, long-lasting responses in aggressive pediatric cancers: Phase I study reports that crizotinib (Xalkori)—an oral drug that targets genetic abnormalities in the ALK gene—stalled tumor growth and, in some cases, eliminated all signs of cancer in select children with neuroblastoma, anaplastic large cell lymphoma or inflammatory myofibroblastic tumors, cancers commonly driven by ALK gene abnormalities.

•  Combination of two molecularly targeted oral drugs show promise for advanced melanoma with BRAF mutations: Results from an early-phase trial show that combination therapy with two investigational targeted drugs—the BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib and the MEK inhibitor trametinib—causes tumor regression, with a lower level of skin side effects than published studies of the current standard single-agent BRAF-targeted therapy, vemurafenib (Zelboraf), have shown.

• Anti-psychotic medicine effective in treating severe chemotherapy-related nausea: A Phase III trial shows olanzapine (Zyprexa), an anti-psychotic medication, is superior to current standard treatment for breakthrough chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. These results address an important unmet need for patients who experience such side effects, despite routine preventive treatment.

• Adding abiraterone to standard hormone therapy eliminates cancer in some men with earlier-stage, aggressive prostate cancer: A randomized Phase II study shows that six months of neo-adjuvant (pre-surgical) treatment with the targeted drug abiraterone (Zytiga) and hormonal therapy eliminated or nearly eliminated cancer in one-third of men with localized high-risk prostate cancer (which has spread throughout the prostate and is likely to spread further). Abiraterone is currently approved for men with advanced prostate cancer, following chemotherapy.

•  Survey highlights need for greater physician education, communication about late effects of common chemotherapy drugs: A large survey finds that many primary care providers and some oncologists are not fully aware of major long-term side effects of four chemotherapy drugs that are widely used to treat breast and colorectal cancers, two of the most common forms of cancer.

More information about the fight against cancer can be found at ASCO’s CancerProgress.Net which offers a detailed, interactive timeline of advances against 14 of the most common cancers.

Cancer.Net is ASCO’s patient website. It provides oncologist-approved information on more than 120 cancer types with information on cancer treatments, managing side effects and coping with cancer diagnosis.

Published: August 19, 2012
Issue: Fall 2012 Issue