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May 20th, 2010
08:08 PM ET

Study: Screening for ovarian cancer may be closer

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

(CNN) Researchers may have found an effective way to screen for ovarian cancer by using an existing blood test in a new way, according to a study released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology).

Ovarian cancer is often called the silent killer because there is no good equivalent screening tool, like mammograms are for breast cancer. Dr. Douglas Blaney, ASCO president, calls this cancer vicious because it's usually detected after it can be cured with surgery.

For more than two decades, doctors have known that a protein called CA-125, is much more prevalent in ovarian cancer cells than healthy cells.

A blood test that looks for CA-125 is used to determine whether an ovarian cancer patient's treatment is working. However, the CA-125 test hasn't been an effective screening for ovarian cancer because many women who have high levels of this protein don't actually have cancer.

"For the last 10 years, the ovarian cancer community has been interested in screening for new [cancer] markers," says lead author Dr. Karen Lu from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. But when researchers compared all the new markers for ovarian cancer at a cancer conference last year, Lu says, of all the new markers, the old one – CA-125 was the best.

So Lu and her co-authors developed mathematical way to determine how the old test could be used in a new way.

For eight years, researchers followed over 3,200 postmenopausal women age 50 and older who didn't have a family history of the disease.

They started by testing the women's CA-125 levels. Based on the woman's age and depending on how high those levels were, the women were asked to get their next blood test one year later, to wait three months, or If their levels were high, they were immediately referred to ultrasound screening and a surgeon.

"What these folks are trying to do is look at change over time," explains Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the study.

Using criteria developed by the researchers, 82 percent of the women had low CA-125 levels and were told to come back in a year. They were classified as low risk.

Over the course of the study, about 7 percent of the women were judged to be at intermediate risk based on their protein levels and were asked to get tested every three months. And less than 1 percent were at high risk and sent to get an ultrasound and see a surgeon immediately.

Five women were found to have ovarian cancer, all at an early stage.

The study authors say their work provides early evidence that this new method of using the CA-125 test could be a feasible strategy for screening women over 50 years of age.

Blaney describes the results as a more refined application of known test.

Lu was cautiously optimistic about the study because it found very few false positive results and doctors were able to pick up this very aggressive cancer at an early stage giving women a much better chance of survival.

However, this study will not lead doctors to recommend all women start getting this blood test once they hit the age of 50 – at least not yet.

Because ovarian cancer is so rare, a much larger trial is needed says Lu. Ovarian cancer strikes one in 2,500 post-menopausal women – and one in 10,000 women between the ages of 35 and 50.

The definitive study is being done in the United Kingdom," say Lu.

This study involves 200,000 women and is designed to determine whether lives are actually saved by using this new application of the old test.

Results from this trial are expected in four years.

"Four years is pretty fast" says Lu.


May 20th, 2010
06:50 PM ET

Study: No radiation after surgery ok for certain breast cancer patients

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical News Managing Editor

Older breast cancer patients who have their small tumors surgically removed get little benefit from radiation treatment, according to a study released Thursday by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists.

Researchers followed 636 women with early stage estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, which is fairly common in older women. according to ASCO president Dr. Douglas Blaney.

The standard therapy for this type of cancer is to surgically remove the tumor, then give the women a drug called tamoxifen, which blocks the hormone estrogen, which can fuel tumor growth. The tamoxifen is then followed by intense radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.

All of the women in the study had a lumpectomy and got the hormone-blocking drug. Only half the women also went on to have radiation therapy – the other half did not.

Researchers found the survival was equal after just over 10 years.

"Avoiding radiation is feasible,” study author Dr. Kevin Hughes concludes based on the results.

The impact of these study results could be quite dramatic for breast cancer patients.

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, believes the results of this study "will be practice changing,” meaning that it is likely to become the standard treatment for some of these patients.

"Getting the women to the doctor every day for six weeks is very difficult," says Brawley. "One-third of women drop out from radiation after two to three weeks."

Dr. Douglas Blaney, president of ASCO, didn't go so far. He thinks the research is "possibly practice changing" and says when women find out how small the radiation benefit really is and choose to defer getting it, "this gives us some comfort as physicians in supporting our patients."

The study also found only 7 percent of the women in this trial who already passed away actually died from breast cancer, leading Hughes to conclude "death from [this type of] breast cancer is a very rare event for women with very small tumors.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


May 20th, 2010
09:56 AM ET

Study: Gluten-free diets do not improve autism behavior

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

Keeping the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and dairy out of the diets of children with autism does not lead to behavior improvements, new research has found.

While many doctors do not recommend a special diet as an autism therapy, there are widespread reports from families on the internet lauding the success of keeping foods containing gluten and casein out of an autistic child's diet. Currently, nearly one in three children with autism is given a gluten- and casein-free diet in an effort to reduce symptoms of the neurodevelopmental disease, study authors say.

Actress and activist Jenny McCarthy is one the most vocal parents who claims her son's autism symptoms improved when she switched his diet.

The cause of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that hinders communication and social interaction, is not yet known and there is no cure. While there are a few science-based therapies, which applied early in a child's development can improve the behavior in some children, for many families finding way to help children can be challenging and lead them to try many unproven treatments.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in upstate New York put the gluten- and casein-free diet to most stringent test today, according to lead author Dr. Susan Hyman.

They looked at 14 children with autism between the ages of 2½ and 5½ years old – but without celiac disease or allergies to milk and wheat.

First they removed gluten and casein from the children’s diet. After four weeks, the children were randomly given either gluten or casein, both, or a placebo, through a carefully measured snack. Parents, teachers and a research assistants were questioned about the child's behavior before and after the snack was eaten.

"Under these controlled circumstances we did not find an effect on behavior in response to challenges with gluten and casein in children with autism but without GI disease," says Hyman.

Parents need to be aware of the potential cost and measure the benefit before they consider trying a new treatment for their child, says IMFAR Program Committee program chair, David Mandell.

Hyman and Mandell both say more studies need to be done looking at the effects of diet and the specific subtypes of autism.

The study is being released this weekend at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.

Autism usually develops by the time a child is 3 years old. An average of 1 in 110 children suffers from some type of an autism spectrum disorder.

Children with autism can have one of several complex neurological disorders, which lead to social impairments, communication difficulties and restrictive and repetitive behaviors. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 1 in 110 children suffers from some type of an autism spectrum disorder.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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