A new blood test for cancer

Cancer cells can float in a person’s blood. But finding them, in the past, used to be like “looking for a needle in a haystack”.

But new smart technology promises to detect these cancer cells easily and much early before a person develops symptoms. Detection of cancer cells at an early stage may be helpful for some patients.

A recently published study in the journal “Annals of Oncology” reports exciting results.

A Californian company called Grail has developed a blood test which seems to have a high degree of accuracy for detection of multiple cancers.

Times newspaper reports that “The NHS will begin a pilot scheme of the test with 140,000 people this year. If that is successful it will be used for millions of patients by 2025”

A word of caution though.

Just because something could be diagnosed early does not always mean that it is a good thing.

The most important thing is whether the early diagnosis can lead to better cure rates and a better quality of life.

If a test detects a cancer early but has no meaningful effect on quantity or quality of life, then it is not a good thing.

For example. Up to 80% of men have prostate cancer which can now be detected by a simple blood test called PSA. There is a good reason why we are NOT using the simple PSA test in every 80 year old.

Most 80 year old men die WITH prostate cancer rather than DUE to prostate cancer.

So why diagnose a cancer that is not causing symptoms if it is not going to make person live longer !

REFERENCES

Times. New blood test, created by Californian company Grail, detects cancers among over-50s. Kat Lay, Health Editor. Friday June 25 2021, 12.01am, The Times.

Clinical validation of a targeted methylation-based multi-cancer early detection test using an independent validation set. E A Klein et al. Ann Oncol. 2021.

Guardian. Blood test that finds 50 types of cancer is accurate enough to be rolled out.
Diagnostic tool being piloted by NHS England shows ‘impressive results’ in spotting tumours in early stages
Blood tests’ development could help the NHS further.
Nadeem Badshah and agency
Fri 25 Jun 2021 06.00 BST

Daily Mail. NHS trials ‘holy grail’ blood test that can spot 50 kinds of cancer: Ground-breaking check that can accurately detect two thirds of deadly cancers early in healthy people could save thousands of lives a year. By Victoria Allen Science Correspondent For The Daily Mail
00:00, 25 Jun 2021 , updated 10:04, 25 Jun 2021

NHS. Should I have a PSA test?

Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is NOT a expert medical opinion on various topics. This blog is purely for information only and do check the sources where cited. Please DO consult your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant to you. The views expressed in this blog represent the author’s views held at the time of drafting the blog and may change overtime, particularly when new evidence comes to light. The blog is not previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any organisation that the author is associated with. The views expressed in this blog are not, in way whatsoever, intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

Are COVID-19 vaccines safe in cancer patients having immunotherapy?

Yes, Pfizer vaccine is safe.

A recent study published in the esteemed Lancet Oncology Journal shows that the vaccine is well tolerated in patients having immunotherapy.

Unlike cancer chemotherapy, immunotherapy works differently. It works by releasing the in-built brakes holding down the immune system thereby boosting the body’s immune system against cancer.

There has been some theoretical concerns whether this might lead to COVID vaccine causing more side effects.

Reassuringly, the Vaccine side effects were NO different from those seen in people not having immunotherapy. The Vaccine also did NOT increase the immunotherapy side effects.

Immunotherapy is increasingly used widely in treatment of cancer are often better tolerated than chemotherapy.

So the study is good news for tens of thousands of patients on immunotherapy and any cancer patient who has hesitated before, should seriously consider having the vaccine now

COVID infection could be very nasty in cancer patients and all evidence points to the benefits of vaccine far outweighing any risks from the Vaccine.

References

Short-term safety of the BNT162b2 mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in patients with cancer treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors
The Lancet Oncology. Published: April 1, 2021
Barliz Waissengrin et al. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(21)00155-8

Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is NOT a expert medical opinion on various topics. This blog is purely for information only and do check the the sources where cited. Please DO consult your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant to you. The views expressed in this blog represent the author’s views held at the time of drafting the blog and may change overtime, particularly when new evidence comes to light. The blog is not previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any organisation the author is associated with. The authors views are not in way intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

Anything potentially good from this COVID-19 pandemic?

It might seem foolish to ask the question “Anything good from this COVID-19 pandemic?” when so many people across the world has been so badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

There is some truth in the proverb that “every dark cloud has a silver lining” and no matter how bad the current pandemic is now, human spirit and endeavour would get something positive out of it.

One possible good thing that has come out of the pandemic is the “mRNA technology”.

Of the three vaccines so far, two of them the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are based on RNA technology.

The successful use of RNA technology for Coronavirus Vaccines would hopefully enable the versatile RNA technology to be further developed and successfully used a cancer treatment in near future.

Further clinical trials in cancer patients would be done to provide proof of their potential.

References:

Bloomberg. Technology & Ideas. mRNA Vaccines Could Vanquish Covid Today, Cancer Tomorrow.
The best news about the mRNA shots from BioNTech and Moderna is that the same technique could also defeat many other diseases.

MSKCC. In a Twist, Scientists Find Cancer Drivers Hiding in RNA, Not DNA.

Jerusalem Post Health & Science. Israeli scientists use mRNA COVID-19 vaccine technology to fight cancer. By MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN NOVEMBER 24, 2020 20:08

Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is purely for information only and do check the the sources where cited. Please DO consult your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant to you.

The views expressed in this blog represent the author’s views held at the time of drafting the blog and may change overtime, particularly when new evidence comes to light. The blog is not necessarily endorsed by any organisation the author is associated with and the authors views are not in way intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

Is the COVID-19 Coronavirus vaccine safe for use in patients having chemotherapy and immunotherapy?

Yes, the available indirect evidence indicates that the anticipated benefits overweigh the potential risks.

Cancer patients, particularly those on chemotherapy have compromised immune systems and hence more vulnerable to COVID-19 Coronavirus complications.

The guidelines indicate that anticipated benefits of vaccine are greater than unknown risks from the Coronavirus vaccines.

The Vaccine trials deliberately included lot of healthy people. Very few people with cancer, particularly cancer patients on active treatment, were included in the COVID-19 trials. So there is not much direct evidence regarding efficacy and safety of Vaccines in cancer patients. But indirect evidence significantly favours Coronavirus vaccination in cancer patients.

Flu vaccines are regularly used in cancer patients without any major side effects specific to cancer patients. No increase in incidence or severity of drug side effects were seen in immunotherapy patients having flu vaccines.

On balance, Vaccination is most likely to be of utmost benefit for most advanced cancer patients on active treatment.

References:

ESMO STATEMENTS FOR VACCINATION AGAINST COVID-19 IN PATIENTS WITH CANCER.

Guidance: COVID-19: the green book, chapter 14a
Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination information
for public health professionals. (UK),

Cochrane: Influenza (flu) vaccination for preventing influenza in adults with cancer

Safety of Inactivated Influenza Vaccine in Cancer Patients Receiving Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
Curtis R Chong et al. Clin Infect Dis. 2020.

ESMO: CANCER PATIENT MANAGEMENT DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC.

Kuderer NM Choueiri TK Shah DP et al.
Clinical impact of COVID-19 on patients with cancer (CCC19): a cohort study. Lancet. 2020; 395: 1907-1918

Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is purely for information only and do check the the sources where cited. Please consult your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant to you.
The views expressed in this blog represent the author’s views held at the time of drafting the blog and is likely to change overtime, particularly when new evidence comes to light. The blog is not necessarily endorsed by any organisation the author is associated with and views are not substitute for professional advice.

Cancer treatment delays during the pandemic

The Staff at National Health Service in UK are doing an admirable job during the pandemic. In the particular, the frontline staff (“patient-facing”) are showing great courage in face of great difficulties and are primarily driven by altruism.

But the pressures of pandemic means many routine scans and hospital clinic appointments have been cancelled particularly during the first wave. There is a great worry about delayed diagnosis of cancer and delayed treatment of cancer.

A paper in BMJ reports that cancer patients survival can be significantly compromised.

But, as with everything else in life, things are not always what they look like at first impression. Even things that are logical and common sense at first glance do not turn out to be simple and clear.

Firstly, delays and cancellations of scans paradoxically could have psychologically benefited some cancer patients . This might seem counterintuitive or even an outrageous statement.

But there are some cancers which are being over diagnosed. A Cancer diagnosis does not always mean a death sentence. Some cancers do not cause problems for a long time or never in the life time of a person. These cancers do not need to be diagnosed promptly. Not being diagnosed with these cancers prevents the psychological burden of a cancer diagnosis. This “over diagnosis” would be expectedly less during pandemic.

Secondly, treatment delays could be caused by a cancer that is advanced and the need for time consuming additional investigations and procedures. Sometimes delays are caused by patients needing to see many medical specialists for the treatment. So it’s the aggressive cancer and the complex patient care that would cause the delay and is responsible for poor outcome rather than the delay by itself.

Read the BMJ article and make your views known.

Mortality due to cancer treatment delay: systematic review and meta-analysis
BMJ 2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4087 (Published 04 November 2020)
Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4087

Overdiagnosis in Cancer
H. Gilbert Welch, William C. Black
JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 102, Issue 9, 5 May 2010, Pages 605–613, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djq099

Disparities in head and neck cancer: assessing delay in treatment initiation
Urjeet A Patel et al. Laryngoscope. 2012 Aug.

Khorana AA, Tullio K, Elson P, Pennell NA, Grobmyer SR, Kalady MF, et al. (2019) . Time to initial cancer treatment in the United States and association with survival over time: An observational study. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0215108. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0215108

Cancer and COVID-19

Cancer patients, as expected, did badly during the 1st wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Data presented at ESMO ( European Society of Medical Oncology) shows that Cancers had – higher rates of Hospitalisation, higher risk of Complications and increased risk of Death.

Elderly cancer patients on the whole did very badly but surprisingly cancer patients under age of 50 did far worse than their peers without cancer.

Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is purely for information only and do check the the sources where cited. Please consult your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant to you.

The views expressed in this blog represent the author’s views held at the time of drafting the blog and is likely to change overtime, particularly when new evidence comes to light. The blog is not necessarily endorsed by any organisation the author is associated with and views are not substitute for professional advice.

Melanoma Skin cancers: significant improvement in life expectancy with immunotherapy

Advanced melanoma skin cancers used to carry a dismal prognosis.

Data presented at Barcelona European Cancer Congress ( ESMO) shows the prognosis has improved remarkably in the recent years.

Fifty percent of patients are now alive for at-least five years. It is quite a remarkable achievement for immunotherapy.

References

1. ESMO press release. One in Two Patients with Metastatic Melanoma Alive after Five Years with Combination Immunotherapy [ESMO 2019 Press Release].

2.BBC News. Skin cancer: Half of people surviving advanced melanoma. By James Gallagher. Health and science correspondent, BBC News

Disclaimer: Please note- This blog is NOT medical advice. This blog is purely for information only. See your own doctor to discuss concerns and options relevant for you.