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Conquest - Making Advances in Cancer Prevention

Making the Connection 2001-2008

Making Advances in Cancer Prevention

Date: April 20, 2010

Researchers identified a new genetic culprit—with dietary implications—in the initiation of prostate cancer. Investigators found the AMACR gene to be overexpressed by as much as nine times in prostate cancer and a prostate cancer precursor known as prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN). “This gene appears to play an important role in the oxidation or metabolism of fatty acid molecules such as those found in dairy products and
beef,” said CRF investigator ANGELO DEMARZO, M.D. , P H . D. of the findings
reported in Cancer Research. “AMACR could serve as an excellent early marker
for prostate cancer and could also help in the development of prevention methods.” ?

Johns Hopkins researchers who formerly identified a compound in broccoli and
other vegetables believed to prevent cancer, have now figured out how it works.
Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have identified the specific genes and enzymes involved in this naturally-occurring cancer prevention mechanism.

They have developed a blueprint mapping the specific genes, and the enzymes they produce, that enable the compound sulforaphane to remove toxins from cells and prevent cancer. “Carcinogens mutate the DNA in genes, which leads to cancer. Now, we know
sulforaphane present in broccoli can effect an extensive network of genes and pathways and rid the body of carcinogens,” says SHYAM BISWAL, PH.D.

The discovery, funded in part by the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund, was
made using new “gene chip” technology that allows researchers to monitor the
complex interactions of thousands of proteins within the entire genome. This firstever
gene profile of a cancer-preventing agent provides a new understanding of the
body’s defense mechanisms and could lead investigators to other food compounds
and strategies for cancer prevention. ?

A new study conclusively reverses the long held notion that birth control pills increase a women’s risk for breast cancer. In a New England Journal of Medicine editorial
published in June, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center breast cancer experts say results form a study of more than 10,000 women nationwide confirms that taking birth control pills does not lead to breast cancer, and, in fact, decreases their risk of developing endometrial and ovarian cancers. Results of the Women’s Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences (Women’s CARE) study, which included both white and African American women, prove, with 95 percent certainty, that there is no link between taking birth control pills and breast cancer risk. “Now, what we need to focus on developing an oral contraceptive that helps reduce the risk of breast cancer while preserving its current cancer preventive qualities,” says KATHY HELZLSOUER, M.D., M.H.S. , professor of epidemiology and oncology and CRF-sponsored investigator. ?

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a safe and
reliable stool test that can detect the earliest, curable stages of colon cancer. Early studies
of the test, which uses a newly developed technology to detect and highlight a key
genetic marker of the disease, were reported in the January 31, 2002, issue of the New
England Journal of Medicine, and are the culmination of more than a decade of effort
to uncover disease mutations and apply them to screening and early detection.
The investigators used the test on stool samples collected from 74 individuals.
The test detected a telltale genetic mutation in 61 percent of those with early colon
cancer, in half of those with premalignant polyps known as adenomas and in none of
those who were disease free. These findings demonstrate that the test reliably detects
cancers at an early and curable stage, and that it yielded no false positives.

“We still have a way to go before we can confidently use such a screening test in the general population, but we are encouraged by the fact that we’ve detected mutations in a significant fraction of the patients with early stage tumors and never in people free of disease,” says Bert Vogelstein M.D., professor of oncology at the Kimmel Cancer Center and leading colon cancer expert.

The investigators expect it will take an additional three to five years before the test will be available clinically. Colorectal cancer is one of seven cancers targeted by the Maryland Cigarette Restitution fund cancer initiatives. VICTOR VELCULESCU, M.D. , P H . D. , a researcher in Dr. Vogelstein’s laboratory, has received a CRF grant to conduct a
mutational analysis of the colon. ?

State Senator Nathaniel McFadden and Sandra Briggs, daughter of Bea Gaddy,
“the Mother Teresa of Baltimore,” cut the ribbon for the opening of the Bea Gaddy
Cancer Prevention and Education Center in June 2002. The center is among the
community partners working with Johns Hopkins in its CRF cancer screening and
education outreach. Since the opening, Briggs reports an ongoing stream of visitors
participating in breast, oral, and prostate cancer screenings and obtaining information. “One day, we had 140 people come through in just two hours,” she says. “Now clearly that demonstrates both the interest and need for such programs in our community.”
Gaddy died of breast cancer in 2001.