World Cancer Day: The Latest Advances

World Cancer Day is an initiative on behalf of international health organizations to promote research into this disease and its prevention. In this article, we'll tell you about the latest advances in oncology.
World Cancer Day: The Latest Advances

Last update: 06 May, 2021

To raise awareness of the need to prevent and investigate cancer, every fourth of February has been declared World Cancer Day. This is an initiative of the World Health Organization and the International Union Against Cancer.

In addition, some countries have established September 24 as World Cancer Research Day to promote scientific research projects regarding neoplasms. In this regard, research in this area of knowledge is constant, and advances are very noticeable.

However, one of the major obstacles is inequality. For example, not all countries are in a position to afford the expenses that research demands. In this sense, World Cancer Day also serves as a wake-up call for international solidarity.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death. In fact, every year, over eighteen million people are diagnosed with a neoplasm. What’s more, almost nine million die from it. Mortality is higher among men than among women.

The three main cancers in the world are breast, lung, and colon cancer. Together, they account for one-third of the number of cancer cases worldwide. And tobacco, which causes lung cancer, is responsible for more than 20% of cancer deaths.

In this article, to commemorate World Cancer Day, we’re going to tell you about the three most relevant advances in cancer research.

1. The origin of metastases

Although World Cancer Day doesn’t specifically talk about metastases, we know that they are a serious consequence of neoplasms. In metastases, some cells from the primary tumor travel to adhere to another area of the body and create a new focus.

Of all neoplastic cells, only 1% can break away, travel, and successfully attach elsewhere. This has always puzzled researchers. That’s why they’ve developed studies to find out how metastasis really works.

If we could understand their mechanism, we’d be closer to preventing them in patients who already have a cancer diagnosis. Prevention at that level could limit mortality in cases that qualify as terminal.

This is how we arrived at the latest advance in this regard, led by Joan Massagué, a Spanish researcher working in New York. His team’s articles in the journal Nature have led to a lot of talks because of the promise of the findings.

The research team has found that metastatic cells express the L1CAM protein to adhere. This protein is the same one that the body naturally uses to close wounds.

In other words, the neoplasms copy the epithelial repair system that humans intrinsically have. This allows them to travel to a different location and be accepted by the receptor organ.

A cancer patient connected to an IV drip.
Metastatic cancer is potentially very deadly, and advances in this area are necessary to reduce mortality.

Continue reading: Brain Metastases: Description and Treatment

2. Liquid biopsy as an option

World Cancer Day also brings fresh memories of advances that improve early diagnosis. Being able to detect the presence of tumor cells quickly improves the prognosis considerably.

Traditionally, organ biopsy is useful as a confirmatory mechanism for cancer. In the event of suspicion, the physician makes an incision in the affected organ and takes a sample for laboratory analysis.

This procedure is precise, but it has its pitfalls. For example, not all organs are easy to reach, and not all patients’ conditions are suitable for such a procedure.

And that’s how we come to liquid biopsies. They consist of detecting tumor cells, or substances that tumors produce, directly in the accessible fluids, without having to reach the solid organs. We can perform liquid biopsies of blood, for example, with a simple extraction.

In comparison to traditional biopsies, liquid biopsies have marked advantages:

  • They’re much less invasive.
  • Doctors can perform them in patients in whom the primary tumor organ is inaccessible, or who can’t undergo a common biopsy.
  • It’s possible to repeat them more easily and quickly.
A nurse preparing to draw blood from a patient's arm.
Liquid biopsy can detect tumor cells directly from a blood sample.

Find out more: What’s a Liquid Biopsy?

3. The relationship between microbiota and cancer

Gut microbiota is a relatively new topic in medicine. Although we’ve been aware of the existence of this group of microorganisms that constantly inhabit the intestine for a long time, it’s only recently that they’ve received the importance they deserve.

For example, experts have already linked them to diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. And, of course, we know about their influence on common digestive disorders such as irritable bowel disease.

Better knowledge of the microbiota brings with it a series of dietary recommendations that could be preventive. We must understand that the microorganisms that form our microbiota are subject to the internal changes that food causes.

This opens up a link between microbiota, diet, and cancer. There’s even a relationship between the microbiota and the response of the body to chemotherapy. A further step in the treatment of neoplasms could be to consider boosting this tiny world of intestinal bacteria in favor of recovery.

Hope on World Cancer Day

Oncology research means hope for patients and the entire world population. Because it’s such a common disease with so much mortality, we should see advances as benefiting us globally.

World Cancer Day lets us know that we’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge about oncological diseases. And there’s much more to come. The process by which tumors form is better understood. And, in comparison to a decade ago, the chances of survival have increased significantly.

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