September is National Blood Cancer Awareness Month. It has been a busy month for your cancer examiner. We began the month by providing a basic overview of blood cancers – lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma. http://knotmove.com/cancer-in-national/september-is-blood-cancer-awareness-month-basic-lymphoma-leukemia-myeloma-info. In mid-September, we commemorated September 15th – which is World Lymphoma Awareness Day – by co-hosting the First International Radio/Internet Forum on Lymphoma. http://knotmove.com/cancer-in-national/join-the-first-international-radio-internet-forum-on-lymphoma-on-sept-12. We also participated in the “Out For Blood” bike ride to raise funding for blood cancer research. http://outforblood.kintera.org.
Now we conclude National Blood Cancer Awareness Month by demonstrating that blood cancer research is indeed the superhighway to curing cancer. Chicago can be proud of the fact that many important cancer breakthroughs have come from our city.
Most Major Cancer Treatments Were Developed Through Blood Cancer Research
Cancer research has provided an enormous humanomic and economic return on investment. http://knotmove.com/cancer-in-chicago/it-is-time-to-win-the-war-against-cancer-not-to-cut-cancer-research-funding. Blood cancer research has provided the biggest bang for our cancer research dollar. So many cancer treatments have been developed through blood cancer research that it fairly can be said that the history of cancer research and treatment runs through the blood cancers.
Chemotherapy was derived from lymphoma and leukemia research as was combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Other important members of the cancer treatment armamentarium – such as immunotherapy (e.g., the monoclonal antibody Rituxan), radioimmunotherapy (RIT), stem cell transplantation, and target therapies (e.g., Gleevec) – were derived from blood cancer research. http://www.annarbor.com/health/blood-cancers/.
Most readers know someone who has been successfully treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As previously reported, RIT is a life-saving therapy for some follicular lymphoma patients who have failed other treatments and a treatment with other important indications. http://knotmove.com/cancer-in-national/tell-the-government-to-stop-limiting-access-to-a-life-saving-cancer-treatment. Gleevec has been a miracle drug for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia. “A diagnosis of CML was akin to death sentence until 2001, when a novel drug, called imatinib mesylate (Gleevec), was approved by the FDA. Now, the 5-year survival rate for CML has climbed to 95%.” http://www.aacr.org/Uploads/DocumentRepository/2011CPR/2011_AACR_CPR_Text_web.pdf. Of course, it was the groundbreaking work of Chicago’s own Dr. Janet Rowley that is responsible for this miracle. http://knotmove.com/cancer-in-chicago/chicago-plays-a-central-role-bringing-keeping-cancer-drugs-on-the-market.
There is synergy in research and many treatments and developments acquired through blood cancer research have been used for other cancers and other diseases. For example, lymphoma patients with arthritis who were taking Rituxan for lymphoma noticed major improvements in their arthritis. Rituxan now is approved by the FDA for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
The blood and lymph nodes are accessible and lend themselves to study and research. But the reasons that blood cancer research has been so productive run much deeper.
Why Do Some People Get Cancer And Others Do Not?
Some people exposed to particular substances that can cause cancer (such as tobacco, the sun, chemicals, and viruses) get cancer. Others exposed (in comparable amounts) to the same substances do not get cancer. Cancer cells live inside of all of us. Why do they take hold in some and not in others? There is more to the cancer-forming process than exposure to carcinogens. After all, we are constantly being assaulted by external forces such as infectious agents, pollutants, and toxins that attempt to destroy or take control of our body. We also are under attack from within. When cells divide, errors in the genes (mutations) can result in abnormal cells that do not function properly. When abnormal cells grow in an uncontrollable fashion that the body’s defenses cannot contain, such cells multiply and eventually form a tumor.
Despite attacks from outside and inside the body, most people remain reasonably healthy for most of their lives. Our ability to survive external and internal assaults depends largely upon our immune system.
Blood Cancer Research Provides Important Insights Regarding The Immune System And The Role Of The Immune System In Preventing Cancers
It makes sense that blood cancer research would be productive and provide insights and benefits extending beyond blood cancers. After all, lymphomas and some leukemias are cancers of the immune system and the immune system plays a critical role in eradicating cancer cells and allowing them to proliferate.
The immune system is a collection of cells, structures, and organs that exist to identify, contain, and destroy bacteria, viruses, and abnormal cells before or after they harm the body. The immune system can be thought of as warriors that are always “on guard” to protect the body. Invading organisms and abnormal cells generally are identified by the immune system through proteins known as antigens located on the surface of cells. Special receptors located on the immune cells lock on to these antigens. When an antigen and an immune cell lock together, the immune response begins and the body acts to destroy, remove, or wall off the foreign invaders or abnormal cells.
The lymph system is a critical part of the body’s immune system. It consists of a series of thin tubes called lymph vessels that branch into all parts of the body. Lymph vessels carry lymph, which is a watery fluid that contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. Within the vast network of vessels are groups of small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. These nodes are located throughout the body. Lymph flows through lymph nodes and structures including the spleen, thymus gland, tonsils, and bone marrow. Lymph nodes filter lymph fluid, removing bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infections. They are made in the bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes, and circulate in the blood and lymph vessels. Lymphocytes recognize foreign cells and act quickly to destroy them. There are two main types of lymphocytes: B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes. B-lymphocytes develop into plasma cells that produce proteins known as antibodies. Antibodies circulate in the blood and react with toxins, bacteria, and some cancer cells. The antibodies target only that antigen on the surface it has been programmed to attack. The body can then identify and remove these unwanted substances. However, some invaders can evade B-lymphocytes by growing inside the body’s own cells. This is where T-lymphocytes come into play. They sense when the body’s own cells have become infected and destroy them directly. T-lymphocytes help the body fight viral infections and destroy abnormal or cancerous cells. Once an invader has been destroyed, surviving B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes develop into specialized memory cells on guard in case the particular antigen is encountered again.
The white blood cells are the body’s patrol warriors continuously on the search to identify and kill bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. The B and T lymphocytes require previous exposure to agents of disease in order to recognize and attack them. But there are important cells that do not need prior exposure to a disease agent to mobilize against it. These cells are aptly named Natural Killer Cells or NK cells. They detect invaders, contact them, and attack the invaders by unleashing poisons. NK cells release perforin that forms a passageway through the cancer cell’s membranes and granzymes that activate the cancer cell’s self-destruction mechanism, causing the death of the cancer cells. The remains of the cancer cells are digested by the macrohpages. McMann and Seaman, Battling And Beating Cancer – The Cancer Survival Book.
Inflammation And Cancer
Inflammation also plays a role in cancer and immune cells play a role in inflammation. Immune cells gearing up to heal lesions produce inflammation. Cancer cells also need to produce inflammation to sustain growth. Growing tumors use the same inflammation substances that the immune cells use (cytokines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes) to reproduce and spread. The over production of inflammation can neutralize the white blood cells. There are associations between many cancers and inflammatory conditions: lung cancer and cigarette smoke; liver cancer and hepatitis; Malt lymphoma and stomach cancer and Helicobacter pylori; colon and rectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease; cervical cancer and Papillomavirus; and mesothelioma and asbestos are some examples. Some studies suggest that patients on anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen) may receive benefits in the form of decreased incidence of cancer.
Though there is more to the story, the point is that blood cancer research provides important insights regarding the immune system. The immune system plays a major role in understanding cancer, preventing cancer, treating cancer, and curing cancer.
The “Will To Live” Is Important And Has A Physiological Basis
The mind and body work together. At some level, stress plays a role in bringing on cancer and hindering recovery from the disease. There are physiological reasons that account for the impact of stress and other emotions. Prolonged emotional stress, anger, despair, or feelings of helplessness can lead to chronic release of noradrenaline and cortisol which stimulate inflammation. The white blood cells of the immune system – NK cells, T lymphocytes, and B lymphocytes – appear to be hampered considerably by feelings of helplessness and the loss of the will to live. The will to live plays an important role in defeating cancer. The interaction of exposures and the body’s immune response to them play a big role in cancer. Having a positive mental attitude certainly is an asset to a patient battling cancer, but the “will to live” is essential.
Metastasis – The Spread Of Cancer
Solid tumors – such as prostrate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer – often are readily treatable when localized. But these tumors can spread or metastasize. As the recent AACR Cancer Progress Report 2011 says, [m]etastasis is the spread of cancer from a primary tumor to other areas of the body where the cancer cells establish new tumors. . . . It is the most lethal attribute of cancer cells that is responsible for more than 90% of the morbidity and mortality associated with cancer. Therefore, studying the fundamental properties of metastasis is essential to conquering cancer.” http://www.aacr.org/Uploads/DocumentRepository/2011CPR/2011_AACR_CPR_Text_web.pdf. The blood and lymph systems are major highways for cancer to spread. Conversely, if you can cut off the blood supply to tumors, the tumors may die. Once again, the role of the immune system in eradicating cancer cells before they spread cannot be ignored. Blood cancer research is critical.
If you are battling or committed to defeating a particular form of cancer, support that research. But if you have blood cancer or are looking to have your contributions make the greatest inroads to curing cancer in general, support blood cancer research. Empirically and intuitively, blood cancer research is the superhighway to curing cancer.
Be A LEADER And Get On The Super Highway To Curing Cancer
Despite its prevalence (impacting nearly 1 million Americans), its associated mortality (killing over 54,000 Americans a year), its impact on children (lymphomas and leukemias account for about half the cancers in children), its prevalence (more than 70 sub-types of cancer impacting men and woman of all ages and races), and its incidence (the rate of non-Hodgkin lymphoma has nearly doubled since the 1970s), blood cancers remain under-publicized and under-funded.
In the final days of this year’s National Blood Cancer Awareness Month, be a LEADER and get on the super highway to curing cancer. There is something that each one of us can do to help people battling blood cancer.
Lymphoma, Leukemia, and Myeloma: are cancers of the blood
Education: obtain the best doctors and the optimal treatment for your particular cancer
Awareness: know the signs and symptoms to obtain a prompt and accurate diagnosis
Dedication: commitment by researchers and doctors to find better treatments and a cure
Engagement: survivors and family members must stay engaged and lead the way
Research: the key to our long-term survival is on the super highway to curing cancer