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Studies Shed Light on Three Types of Cancer

Studies Shed Light on Three Types of Cancer

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingThis afternoon three new studies shed light on three types of cancer: cervical, breast and colorectal.

One study focused on the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent cervical cancer. Vaccines like this are useful in preventing HPV infection, but can they cure women already infected with the virus?

Researchers tested the vaccine on more than 2,100 women in Costa Rica who had HPV. They thought the vaccine might help the immune system clear the virus quickly. They found women given the vaccine had the same rate of viral clearance as women not given the vaccine.

The results remained the same even after they factored in when the participants became sexually active, and whether they smoked or used oral contraceptives -- all factors that might influence how long the disease stays in the system.

Right now the vaccine is recommended for young girls, ages 11 to 12.

Between 2000 and 2003, annual rates of breast cancer dropped five percent. While this is good news, experts have wondered why. A new study may have the answer.

One theory is fewer women are getting mammograms, therefore their cancers have not been detected.

Another theory claims fewer women are taking hormones after a 2002 study found they increased the risk for breast cancer.

Researchers studied more than 600,000 mammogram exams and compared them to the patents' self-reports of hormone therapy. They found the decline in breast cancer cases coincided with the decline in hormone therapy use.

The number of women taking hormones dropped by seven percent the first year after the study was released and by 34 percent the next year.

Researchers say the slight decrease in mammogram screenings is an unlikely cause of the breast cancer drop.

The researchers studied women who had received a screening mammogram from 1997 to 2003. They were between the ages of 50 and 69.

More than 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with stage three colon cancer this year. Stage three means the cancer is present in the colon and lymph nodes. Obviously, patients who undergo treatment don't want the cancer to come back, and a new study says diet could play a role in recurrent cancer and survival.

Fifty-five-year-old John Coughlin has always been strong and fit. That strength came in handy in 2003 when a regular colonoscopy revealed he had stage three cancer.

Coughlin said, "I went through six weeks of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. In December of that year I had major surgery to remove the lower part of my colon, and that was followed by six months of weekly chemotherapy."

As you'd imagine, after that, John would do a lot to stay healthy. It turns out, what he eats or doesn't eat could really help.

Doctor Jeffrey Meyerhardt, with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says, "It's not really increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables but really trying to reduce the amount of red meat intake and fatty foods and sugary, 'desserty' foods, that seems to be protective for colon cancer recurrences and survival."

That higher fat diet Dr. Meyerhardt describes is called a western pattern diet. He and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute studied that pattern in colon cancer patients. Their findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA.)

Dr. Meyerhardt said, "The biggest surprise is actually the impact that a western pattern diet seems to have."

Stage three colon cancer patients who ate high amounts of a western pattern diet were about three times more likely to have recurrent cancer or to die, compared to patients who ate less of those types of foods.

"People who have a higher western pattern diet have an increased risk for recurrence, but that doesn't mean people who have very little of a western pattern diet have no chance for recurrence, it's just relatively, it's an additional thing to improve people with colon cancer's outcomes," Dr. Meyerhardt explained.

The study says improved outcomes are more likely if stage three colon cancer patients eat the way Coughlin does: lots of fish, chicken, brown rice, and less western pattern foods, like red meat.

Coughlin says, "To cut down from one steak a week to one steak a month is not a big deal."

In fact, compared to what he went through to survive colon cancer, it's nothing at all.

The researchers studied eating patterns, cancer recurrence and survival among about 1,000 stage three colon cancer patients who were undergoing treatment, such as chemotherapy.

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