A Neuroscientist Lost Her Mind From Cancer. Shes Not Alone.

Barbara Lipska was already a two-time cancer survivor when her hand disappeared in front of her face in 2015.

The neuroscientist and director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health specializes in studying schizophrenia. When she moved her right hand and it disappeared, she immediately predicted her eventual diagnosis.

I thought right away: brain tumor, she told The Daily Beast. But I quickly expelled it. I didnt have time for brain tumors.

Lipska, whose book The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery was published on April 3, had already faced her own mental health challenges in the wake of battling breast cancer in 2009, then melanoma in 2011. She sought psychotherapy at the recommendation of her daughter.

Shes not alone in needing help as a cancer patient. According to the American Cancer Society, feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common in people with cancer, and up to one in 4 people with cancer have clinical depression.

I didnt have time for brain tumors.
Barbara Lipska, neuroscientist and author

The mental health issues Lipska started experiencing in 2015 were extreme. There was the vision issue, her disappearing hand, and the suddenly unrecognizable faces of colleagues. There was also her memoryforgetting where she lived while out on a run and an impaired awareness of having to urinate, leading her to pee her pants. And there was also her changing personality, breakdowns and overall failure to see that she was experiencing these things. Lipska, whose entire career revolved around these kinds of behaviors caused by mental health disorders, suddenly started experiencing them herself.

Lipskas brain tumors were metastases, secondary malignant growths in the brain that were a result of her melanoma. Her largest tumor was the size of an almond. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, melanoma is a common cancer to metastasize to the brain, along with lung, breast, and colon.

One of Lipskas doctors, Ayal Aizer, M.D., a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told The Daily Beast that there are a number of elements to consider when patients are diagnosed with metastases, namely the location of their tumors, which eventually defines how they manifest. Lipskas tumors inhabited her brains frontal cortex, which, she writes in her book, determines who humans are.

Even if theyre small, theres a psychological aspect of having cancer in the brain which is very difficult to digest and ultimately cope with, and in addition to that, some patients who have brain metastases actually have symptoms that can impair what we value most in life like vision, coordination or speech or walking and the ability to think clearly and digest information, he said.

It really can significantly impact the life.

Aizer said that a patients mental healthcare is dictated by what they want or express in their unique needs. Sometimes, patients like to stick to strictly medical facts when dealing with oncologists; other times, they want to have an all-hands-on-deck approach, with psychologists, psychiatrists, even family therapists. The goal is to help patients process their mental and neurological issues, digest it, cope with it.

Sometimes we can bring in speech and language and occupational therapists, and I think just having the opportunity to sit with a mental health professional in the office for an hour where were not talking about chemo or immunotherapy or radiation or surgery and its talking about what life is like, what challenges theyre facing and having someone to sort of listen, serve as a sounding board and come up with strategies to cope is really valuable, Aizer said.

Lipska underwent many different treatments for the metastases, like immunotherapy, radiation, steroids and targeted therapy. And slowly, her clarity came back bit by bit, but she was entirely unaware of how shed behaved, so much so that her family had to fill her in on her behaviors.

Today, Lipska is now in remission. Its been 16 months after the initial findings of her tumors, but shes aware there could be more cancer cells still in her body. Theres also the chance shell develop necrosis, an effect of radiation that destroys healthy brain tissue.

But mostly, Lipska is positive, thankful. Shes happy to have her memory and brain back and to have learned so much from her experience that she can use toward her own work.

Though shes regained her neurological function, she largely associates what she went through with what mentally ill people go through every day.

In the course of losing and regaining my sanity, Ive come to identify with other people who have known mental illnesses firsthand, Lipska said in her book, explaining that the symptoms she exhibited fall in line with diagnoses for dementia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Despite conducting research on mental illness for over thirty years, I believe it is my own suffering that truly taught me how the brain worksand how profoundly frightening it is when our minds fail.

Lipska said her compassion for those with mental illness is one of the many things this experience left her with.

The brain is an incredibly complex mechanism and we have no idea what happens in people with mental illness, so theres more empathy, it gives rise to more tolerance and more passion toward research in this field and more passion to find a cure, which I spend my life working on.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-neuroscientist-lost-her-mind-from-cancer-shes-not-alone

I Felt as Though Someone Had Punched Me Square in the Gut: Cancer Survivors Sue Hospital Over Lost Eggs and Embryos

In one of her earliest memories, Rachel Mehl is running around at her brothers Boy Scout camp.

She was around 5, and another boy, a toddler, fell and scraped his knee. She rushed to his side to comfort him, and both of their mothers remarked on what a good mom she was going to be one day. I beamed with pride, Mehl said. Throughout her life, she said, shes been unwavering in her desire to have children.

Thats why, when Mehl was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, she made the chance to hold off receiving treatment until she could harvest and freeze her eggs. Chemotherapy, she was told, would likely destroy her fertility.

Mehl, who lives in Pittsburgh, harvested 19 eggs and stored them at an Ohio fertility clinic run by University Hospitals. But in early March, she got a letter from the hospital informing her that freezer storing her eggs had malfunctioned and that they were likely no longer viable. I felt as though someone had punched me square in the gut, she said during a press conference on Monday.

Mehl is one of three Pittsburgh women, all breast cancer survivors, filing lawsuits against a Ohio fertility clinic after the freezer malfunction led to the loss of their frozen eggs, they announced in a press conference Monday. Theyre represented by noted womens rights attorney Gloria Allred, along with local attorneys from the area. The three women and are suing for negligence and breach of contract, among other charges. Mehl and Deers suits have already been filed and Yerkeys will be filed later this week.

Because of the carelessness of the University Hospital, I have now lost all hope of every having biological children.
Rachel Mehl

Sarah Deer, 30, had 29 eggs stored at the clinic, and Danelle Yerkey, 37, had 24 eggs stored. Both also delayed treatment to go through the egg extraction process before chemotherapy and radiation damaged their fertility. I felt like we had secured our future, Deer said during the press conference. I am a woman wounded. Robbed by cancer of my health and my body, and robbed by University Hospitals of my future.

In total, more than 4,000 eggs and embryos from around 950 patents were damaged by the storage tank malfunction over the weekend of March 3. We are heartbroken to tell you that its unlikely any are viable, the hospital said in a letter to patients.

Mehl says she wasnt initially angry with the University Hospital health system over the loss, she said: Things happen that we cant predict or plan for. But after learning more about the circumstances surrounding the malfunction, her feelings changed, she said.

For a few weeks before the incident, the clinic was aware that the storage tank holding the eggs and embryos was broken, and was beginning the process to remove and transfer its contents. The automatic refilling feature on the tank, which kept levels of liquid nitrogen steady, wasnt working properly, and hospital staff was topping it off by hand, they said in the letter. The tank comes equipped with an automatic alarm designed to alert an employee if the temperature in the tank rises, but the alarm had been turned off, and no one was notified that the unit was heating up.

You better believe that now Im angry, Mehl said. Because of the carelessness of the University Hospital, I have now lost all hope of every having biological children.

Allred said at the press conference that these women are among the most vulnerable victims she has ever met.

Its bad enough when women are treated with callous disregard in any area of life, she said during the press conference. But especially in this area, which is so intimate and personal … we have more questions than we have answers, but they deserve the answers and so much more.

I am a woman wounded. Robbed by cancer of my health and my body, and robbed by University Hospitals of my future.
Sarah Deer

Allred also called for legislation around fertility clinics, which are largely unregulated, to maintain high standards and put safeguards in place to prevent problems like this in the future. Regulation is not a dirty word, she said. Regulation, depending on what kind of regulation, can ensure safety for consumers so there will be fewer victims.

In a similar incident, which coincidentally took place over the same weekend, a malfunction at a San Francisco clinic lead to damage to the eggs and embryos of around 400 patients. That incident has led to a class action lawsuit.

A number of other lawsuits have already been filed against the University Hospital system, including two proposed class-action lawsuits, filed at the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Cleveland soon after the malfunction was announced. One is in the name of a Pennsylvania couple, and one is by Amber and Elliot Ash, who had two embryos in the affected storage tank.

Elliot froze his sperm over a decade ago, before receiving chemotherapy, according to The New York Times. The couple has one son, conceived through in vitro fertilization, and told the Times that they stored the additional embryos with plans to eventually have a second child.

Its up to the courts to determine if the suits will proceed individually, said Stuart Scott, an attorney with Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, the local firm working on the case, or if they will all be consolidated under one class action suit.

But the voices of the individual women filing suit Monday matter, Allred says. They also want to become fighters for change, so that no other women will have to suffer the catastrophic loss they have had to endure.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/i-felt-as-though-someone-had-punched-me-square-in-the-gut-cancer-survivors-sue-hospital-over-lost-eggs-and-embryos

I have prostate cancer. But I am happy | George Monbiot

The three principles that define a good life will protect me from despair, says Guardian columnist George Monbiot

It came, as these things often do, like a gunshot on a quiet street: shocking and disorienting. In early December, my urine turned brown. The following day I felt feverish and found it hard to pee. I soon realised I had a urinary tract infection. It was unpleasant, but seemed to be no big deal. Now I know that it might havesavedmy life.

The doctor told me this infection was unusual in a man of my age, and hinted at an underlying condition. So I had a blood test, which revealed that my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were off the scale. An MRI scan and a mortifying biopsy confirmed my suspicions. Prostate cancer: all the smart young men have itthisseason.

On Monday, I go into surgery. The prostate gland is buried deep in the body, so removing it is a major operation: there are six entry points and it takes four hours. The procedure will hack at the roots of my manhood. Because of the damage that will be caused to the surrounding nerves, theres a high risk of permanent erectile dysfunction. Because the urethra needs to be cut and reattached to the bladder, I will almost certainly suffer urinary incontinence for a few months, and possibly permanently. Because the removal of part of the urethra retracts the penis, it appears to shrink, at least until it can be stretched back into shape.

I was offered a choice: radical surgery or brachytherapy. This means implanting radioactive seeds in the parts of the prostate affected by cancer. Brachytherapy has fewer side effects, and recovery is much faster. But theres a catch. If it fails to eliminate the cancer, theres nothing more that can be done. This treatment sticks the prostate gland to the bowel and bladder, making surgery extremely difficult. Once youve had one dose of radiation, they wont give you another. I was told that the chances of brachytherapy working in my case were between 70 and 80%. The odds were worse, in other words, than playing Russian roulette (which, with one bullet in a six-chambered revolver, gives you 83%). Though I have a tendency to embrace risk, this was not an attractive option.

It would be easy to curse my luck and start to ask, Why me? I have never smoked and hardly drink; I have a ridiculously healthy diet and follow a severe fitness regime. Im 20 or 30 years younger than most of the men I see in the waiting rooms. In other words, I would have had a lower risk of prostate cancer only if I had been female. And yet I am happy. In fact, Im happier than I was before my diagnosis. How can this be?

The reason is that Ive sought to apply the three principles which, I believe, sit at the heart of a good life. The first is the most important: imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better.

When you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, your condition is ranked on the Gleason Score, which measures its level of aggression. Mine is graded at seven out of 10. But this doesnt tell me where I stand in general. I needed another index to assess the severity of my condition, so I invented one: the Shitstorm Scale. How does my situation compare to those of people I know, who contend with other medical problems or family tragedies? How does it compare to what might have been, had the cancer not been caught while it was still apparently confined to the prostate gland? How does it compare to innumerable other disasters that could have befallen me?

When I completed the exercise, I realised that this bad luck, far from being a cause of woe, is a reminder of how lucky I am. I have the love of my family and friends. I have the support of those with whom I work. I have the NHS. My Shitstorm Score is a mere two out of 10.

The tragedy of our times is that, rather than apply the most useful of English proverbs cheer up, it could be worse we are constantly induced to imagine how much better things could be. The rich lists and power lists with which the newspapers are filled, our wall-to-wall celebrity culture, the invidious billions spent on marketing and advertising, create an infrastructure of comparison that ensures we see ourselves as deprived of what others possess. It is a formula for misery.

The second principle is this: change what you can change, accept what you cant. This is not a formula for passivity Ive spent my working life trying to alter outcomes that might have seemed immovable to other people. The theme of my latest book is that political failure is, at heart, a failure of imagination. But sometimes we simply have to accept an obstacle as insuperable. Fatalism in these circumstances is protective. I accept that my lap is in the lap of the gods.

So I will not rage against the morbidity this surgery might cause. I wont find myself following Groucho Marx who, at the age of 81, magnificently lamented: Im going to Iowa to collect an award. Then Im appearing at Carnegie Hall, its sold out. Then Im sailing to France to pick up an honour from the French government. Id give it all up for one erection. And today theres Viagra.

The third principle is this: do not let fear rule your life. Fear hems us in, stops us from thinking clearly, and prevents us from either challenging oppression or engaging calmly with the impersonal fates. When I was told that this operation had an 80% chance of success, my first thought was thats roughly the same as one of my kayaking trips. And about twice as good as the chance of emerging from those investigations in West Papua and the Amazon.

There are, I believe, three steps to overcoming fear: name it, normalise it, socialise it. For too long, cancer has been locked in the drawer labelled Things We Dont Talk About. When we call it the Big C, it becomes, as the term suggests, not smaller, but larger in our minds. He Who Must Not Be Named is diminished by being identified, and diminished further when he becomes a topic of daily conversation.

The super-volunteer Jeanne Chattoe, whom I interviewed recently for another column, reminded me that, just 25 years ago, breast cancer was a taboo subject. Thanks to the amazing advocacy of its victims, this is almost impossible to imagine today. Now we need to do the same for other cancers. Let there be no moreterriblesecrets.

So I have sought to discuss my prostate cancer as I would discuss any other issue. I make no apologies for subjecting you to the grisly details: the more familiar they become, the less horrifying. In doing so, I socialise my condition. Last month, I discussed the remarkable evidence suggesting that a caring community enhances recovery and reduces mortality. In talking about my cancer with family and friends, I feel the love that I know will get me through this. The old strategy of suffering in silence could not have been more misguided.

I had intended to use this column to urge men to get themselves tested. But since my diagnosis, weve discovered two things. The first is that prostate cancer has overtaken breast cancer to become the third biggest cancer killer in the UK. The second is that the standard assessment (the PSA blood test) is of limited use. As prostate cancer in its early stages is likely to produce no symptoms, its hard to see what men can do to protect themselves. That urinary tract infection was a remarkably lucky break.

Instead, I urge you to support the efforts led by Prostate Cancer UK to develop a better test. Breast cancer has attracted twice as much money and research as prostate cancer, not because (as the Daily Mail suggests) men are the victims of injustice, but because womens advocacy has been so effective. Campaigns such as Men United and the Movember Foundation have sought to bridge this gap, but theres a long way to go. Prostate cancer is discriminatory: for reasons unknown, black men are twice as likely to suffer it as white men. Finding better tests and treatments is a matter of both urgencyand equity.

I will ride this out. I will own this disease, but I wont be defined by it: I will not be prostrated by my prostate. I will be gone for a few weeks but when I return, I do solemnly swear I will still be the argumentative old git with whom you are familiar.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Prostate Cancer UK can be contacted on 0800 0748383

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/13/prostate-cancer-happy-diagnosis-operation

Yes, bacon really is killing us

The long read: Decades of research proves that chemicals used to make bacon do cause cancer. So how did the meat industry convince us it was safe?

There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.

And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldnt miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER. The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that Processed meats do cause cancer, while the Sun went with Banger out of Order and Killer in the Kitchen.

The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that processed meats were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was sufficient evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.

Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that eat less processed meat, much like eat more vegetables, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.

The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling. According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed or red meat in Britain, there would be 8,800 fewer cases of cancer. (That is four times the number of people killed annually on Britains roads.)

The news felt especially shocking because both ham and bacon are quintessentially British foods. Nearly a quarter of the adult population in Britain eats a ham sandwich for lunch on any given day, according to data from 2012 gathered by researchers Luke Yates and Alan Warde. To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home. Surveys indicate that the smell of frying bacon is one of our favourite scents in the UK, along with cut grass and fresh bread. To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast.

Vegetarians might point out that the bacon sandwich should never have been seen as comforting. It is certainly no comfort for the pigs, most of whom are kept in squalid, cramped conditions. But for the rest of us, it was alarming to be told that these beloved foods might be contributing to thousands of needless human deaths. In the weeks following news of the WHO report, sales of bacon and sausages fell dramatically. British supermarkets reported a 3m drop in sales in just a fortnight. (It was very detrimental, said Kirsty Adams, the product developer for meat at Marks and Spencer.)

But just when it looked as if this may be #Bacongeddon (one of many agonised bacon-related hashtags trending in October 2015), a second wave of stories flooded in. Their message was: panic over. For one thing, the analogy between bacon and smoking was misleading. Smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are both dangerous, but not on the same scale. To put it in context, around 86% of lung cancers are linked to smoking, whereas it seems that just 21% of bowel cancers can be attributed to eating processed or red meat. A few weeks after publishing the report, the WHO issued a clarification insisting it was not telling consumers to stop eating processed meat.

Meanwhile, the meat industry was busily insisting that there was nothing to see here. The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, called the report dramatic and alarmist overreach. A whole tranche of articles insisted in a commonsense tone that it would be premature and foolish to ditch our meaty fry-ups just because of a little cancer scare.

Nearly three years on, it feels like business as usual for processed meats. Many of us seem to have got over our initial sense of alarm. Sales of bacon in the UK are buoyant, having risen 5% in the two years up to mid-2016. When I interviewed a product developer for Sainsburys supermarket last year, she said that one of the quickest ways to get British consumers to try a new product now was to add chorizo to it.

And yet the evidence linking bacon to cancer is stronger than ever. In January, a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9g of bacon a day less than a rasher could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The studys lead author, Jill Pell from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University, told me that while it can be counterproductive to push for total abstinence, the scientific evidence suggests it would be misleading for health authorities to set any safe dose for processed meat other than zero.

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didnt have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we havent been told including by the WHO is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.


How do you choose a pack of bacon in a shop, assuming you are a meat eater? First, you opt for either the crispy fat of streaky or the leanness of back. Then you decide between smoked or unsmoked each version has its passionate defenders (I am of the unsmoked persuasion). Maybe you seek out a packet made from free-range or organic meat, or maybe your budget is squeezed and you search for any bacon on special offer. Either way, before you put the pack in your basket, you have one last look, to check if the meat is pink enough.

Since we eat with our eyes, the main way we judge the quality of cured meats is pinkness. Yet it is this very colour that we should be suspicious of, as the French journalist Guillaume Coudray explains in a book published in France last year called Cochonneries, a word that means both piggeries and rubbish or junk food. The subtitle is How Charcuterie Became a Poison. Cochonneries reads like a crime novel, in which the processed meat industry is the perpetrator and ordinary consumers are the victims.

The pinkness of bacon or cooked ham, or salami is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites. It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why processed meat is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat. Coudray argues that we should speak not of processed meat but nitro-meat.

Parma
Prosciutto di Parma has been produced without nitrates since 1993. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Pure insane crazy madness is how Coudray described the continuing use of nitrates and nitrites in processed meats, in an email to me. The madness, in his view, is that it is possible to make bacon and ham in ways that would be less carcinogenic. The most basic way to cure any meat is to salt it either with a dry salt rub or a wet brine and to wait for time to do the rest. Coudray notes that ham and bacon manufacturers claim this old-fashioned way of curing isnt safe. But the real reason they reject it is cost: it takes much longer for processed meats to develop their flavour this way, which cuts into profits.

There is much confusion about what processed meat actually means, a confusion encouraged by the bacon industry, which benefits from us thinking there is no difference between a freshly minced lamb kofta and a pizza smothered in nitrate-cured pepperoni. Technically, processed meat means pork or beef that has been salted and cured, with or without smoking. A fresh pound of beef mince isnt processed. A hard stick of cured salami is.

The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite. It is these that give salamis, bacons and cooked hams their alluring pink colour. Saltpetre sometimes called sal prunella has been used in some recipes for salted meats since ancient times. As Jane Grigson explains in Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, saltpetre was traditionally used when brining hams to give them an attractive rosy appearance when otherwise it would be a murky greyish brown.

In earlier centuries, bacon-makers who used saltpetre did not understand that it converts to nitrite as the meat cures. It is this nitrite that allows the bacteria responsible for cured flavour to emerge quicker, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria. But in the early 20th century, the meat industry found that the production of cured meats could be streamlined by adding sodium nitrite to the pork in pure form. In trade journals of the 1960s, the firms who sold nitrite powders to ham-makers spoke quite openly about how the main advantage was to increase profit margins by speeding up production. One French brand of sodium nitrite from the 60s was called Vitorose or quick-pink.

Nitro-chemicals have been less of a boon to consumers. In and of themselves, these chemicals are not carcinogenic. After all, nitrate is naturally present in many green vegetables, including celery and spinach, something that bacon manufacturers often jubilantly point out. As one British bacon-maker told me, Theres nitrate in lettuce and no one is telling us not to eat that!

But something different happens when nitrates are used in meat processing. When nitrates interact with certain components in red meat (haem iron, amines and amides), they form N-nitroso compounds, which cause cancer. The best known of these compounds is nitrosamine. This, as Guillaume Coudray explained to me in an email, is known to be carcinogenic even at a very low dose. Any time someone eats bacon, ham or other processed meat, their gut receives a dose of nitrosamines, which damage the cells in the lining of the bowel, and can lead to cancer.

You would not know it from the way bacon is sold, but scientists have known nitrosamines are carcinogenic for a very long time. More than 60 years ago, in 1956, two British researchers called Peter Magee and John Barnes found that when rats were fed dimethyl nitrosamine, they developed malignant liver tumours. By the 1970s, animal studies showed that small, repeated doses of nitrosamines and nitrosamides exactly the kind of regular dose a person might have when eating a daily breakfast of bacon were found to cause tumours in many organs including the liver, stomach, oesophagus, intestines, bladder, brain, lungs and kidneys.

Just because something is a carcinogen in rats and other mammals does not mean it will cause cancer in humans, but as far back as 1976, cancer scientist William Lijinsky argued that we must assume that these N-nitroso compounds found in meats such as bacon were also carcinogens for man. In the years since, researchers have gathered a massive body of evidence to lend weight to that assumption. In 1994, to take just one paper among hundreds on nitrosamines and cancer, two American epidemiologists found that eating hotdogs one or more times a week was associated with higher rates of childhood brain cancer, particularly for children who also had few vitamins in their diets.

In 1993, Parma ham producers in Italy made a collective decision to remove nitrates from their products and revert to using only salt, as in the old days. For the past 25 years, no nitrates or nitrites have been used in any Prosciutto di Parma. Even without nitrate or nitrite, the Parma ham stays a deep rosy-pink colour. We now know that the colour in Parma ham is totally harmless, a result of the enzyme reactions during the hams 18-month ageing process.

Slow-cured, nitrate-free, artisan hams are one thing, but what about mass-market meats? Eighteen months would be a long time to wait on hotdogs, as the food science expert Harold McGee comments. But there have always been recipes for nitrate-free bacon using nothing but salt and herbs. John Gower of Quiet Waters Farm, a pork producer who advises many British manufacturers of cured meats, confirms that nitrate is not a necessary ingredient in bacon: Its generally accepted that solid muscle products, as opposed to chopped meat products like salami, dont require the addition of nitrate for safety reasons.

Bacon is proof, if it were needed, that we cling to old comforts long after they have been proven harmful. The attachment of producers to nitrates in bacon is mostly cultural, says Gower. Bacon cured by traditional methods without nitrates and nitrites will lack what Gower calls that hard-to-define tang, that delicious almost metallic taste that makes bacon taste of bacon to British consumers. Bacon without nitrates, says Gower, is nothing but salt pork.

Given the harm of nitro-meat has been known for so long, the obvious question is why more has not been done to protect us from it. Corinna Hawkes, a professor of Food Policy at City University in London, has been predicting for years that processed meats will be the next sugar a food so harmful that there will be demands for government agencies to step in and protect us. Some day soon, Hawkes believes, consumers will finally wake up to the clear links between cancer and processed meat and say Why didnt someone tell me about this?


The most amazing thing about the bacon panic of 2015 was that it took so long for official public health advice to turn against processed meat. It could have happened 40 years earlier. The only time that the processed meat industry has looked seriously vulnerable was during the 1970s, a decade that saw the so-called war on nitrates in the US. In an era of Ralph Nader-style consumer activism, there was a gathering mood in favour of protecting shoppers against bacon which one prominent public health scientist called the most dangerous food in the supermarket. In 1973, Leo Freedman, the chief toxicologist of the US Food and Drug Administration, confirmed to the New York Times that nitrosamines are a carcinogen for humans although he also mentioned that he liked bacon as well as anybody.

The US meat industry realised it had to act fast to protect bacon against the cancer charge. The first attempts to fight back were simply to ridicule the scientists for over-reacting. In a 1975 article titled Factual look at bacon scare, Farmers Weekly insisted that a medium-weight man would have to consume more than 11 tonnes of bacon every single day to run the faintest risk of cancer. This was an outrageous fabrication.

But soon the meat lobby came up with a cleverer form of diversion. The AMI the American Meat Institute started to make the argument that the nitrate was only there for the consumers own safety, to ward off botulism a potentially fatal toxin sometimes produced by poorly preserved foods. The scientific director of the AMI argued that a single cup of botulism would be enough to wipe out every human on the planet. So, far from harming lives, bacon was actually saving them.

In 1977, the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture gave the meat industry three months to prove that nitrate and nitrite in bacon caused no harm. Without a satisfactory response, Coudray writes, these additives would have to be replaced 36 months later with non-carcinogenic methods. The meat industry could not prove that nitrosamines were not carcinogenic because it was already known that they were. Instead, the argument was made that nitrates and nitrites were utterly essential for the making of bacon, because without them bacon would cause thousands of deaths from botulism. In 1978, in response to the FDAs challenge, Richard Lyng, director of the AMI, argued that nitrites are to processed meat as yeast is to bread.

The meat industrys tactics in defending bacon have been right out of the tobacco industrys playbook, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. The first move is: attack the science. By the 1980s, the AMI was financing a group of scientists based at the University of Wisconsin. These meat researchers published a stream of articles casting doubt on the harmfulness of nitrates and exaggerating the risk from botulism of non-nitrated hams.

Does making ham without nitrite lead to botulism? If so, it is a little strange that in the 25 years that Parma ham has been made without nitrites, there has not been a single case of botulism associated with it. Almost all the cases of botulism from preserved food which are extremely rare have been the result of imperfectly preserved vegetables, such as bottled green beans, peas and mushrooms. The botulism argument was a smokescreen. The more that consumers could be made to feel that the harmfulness of nitrate and nitrite in bacon and ham was still a matter of debate, the more they could be encouraged to calm down and keep buying bacon.

A
A bacon sandwich at a diner in Michigan. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

The botulism pretext was very effective. The AMI managed to get the FDA to keep delaying its three-month ultimatum on nitrites until a new FDA commissioner was appointed in 1980 one more sympathetic to hotdogs. The nitrite ban was shelved. The only concession the industry had made was to limit the percentage of nitrites added to processed meat and to agree to add vitamin C, which would supposedly mitigate the formation of nitrosamines, although it does nothing to prevent the formation of another known carcinogen, nitrosyl-haem.

Over the years, the messages challenging the dangers of bacon have become ever more outlandish. An explainer article by the Meat Science and Muscle Biology lab at the University of Wisconsin argues that sodium nitrite is in fact critical for maintaining human health by controlling blood pressure, preventing memory loss, and accelerating wound healing. A French meat industry website, info-nitrites.fr, argues that the use of the right dose of nitrites in ham guarantees healthy and safe products, and insists that ham is an excellent food for children.

The bacon lobby has also found surprising allies among the natural foods brigade. Type nitrate cancer bacon into Google, and you will find a number of healthy eating articles, some of them written by advocates of the Paleo diet, arguing that bacon is actually a much-maligned health food. The writers often mention that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates, and that human saliva is high in nitrite. One widely shared article claims that giving up bacon would be as absurd as attempting to stop swallowing. Out of the mass of stuff on the internet defending the healthiness of bacon, it can be hard to tell which writers have fallen under the sway of the meat lobby, and which are simply clueless nutrition experts who dont know any better.

Either way, this misinformation has the potential to make thousands of people unwell. The mystifying part is why the rest of us have been so willing to accept the cover-up.


Our deepening knowledge of its harm has done very little to damage the comforting cultural associations of bacon. While I was researching this article, I felt a rising disgust at the repeated dishonesty of the processed meat industry. I thought about hospital wards and the horrible pain and indignity of bowel cancer. But then I remembered being in the kitchen with my father as a child on a Sunday morning, watching him fry bacon. When all the bacon was cooked, he would take a few squares of bread and fry them in the meaty fat until they had soaked up all its goodness.

In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century. But tastes in food are seldom rational, and millions of us are still hooked on the salty, smoky, umami savour of sizzling bacon.

We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight. The widespread willingness to forgive pink, nitrated bacon for causing cancer illustrates how torn we feel when something beloved in our culture is proven to be detrimental to health. Our brains cant cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards. The reaction of many consumers to the WHO report of 2015 was: hands off my bacon!

In 2010, the EU considered banning the use of nitrates in organic meats. Perhaps surprisingly, the British organic bacon industry vigorously opposed the proposed nitrates ban. Richard Jacobs, the late chief executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, an industry body, said that prohibiting nitrate and nitrite would have meant the collapse of a growing market for organic bacon.

Organic bacon produced with nitrates sounds like a contradiction in terms, given that most consumers of organic food buy it out of concerns for food safety. Having gone to the trouble of rearing pigs using free-range methods and giving them only organic feed, why would you then cure the meat in ways that make it carcinogenic? In Denmark, all organic bacon is nitrate-free. But the UK organic industry insisted that British shoppers would be unlikely to accept bacon that was greyish.

Then again, the slowness of consumers to lose our faith in pink bacon may partly be a response to the confusing way that the health message has been communicated to us. When it comes to processed meat, we have been misled not just by wild exaggerations of the food industry but by the caution of science.

On the WHO website, the harmfulness of nitrite-treated meats is explained so opaquely you could miss it altogether. In the middle of a paragraph on what makes red meat and processed meat increase the risk of cancer, it says: For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds. What this means, in plain English, is that nitrites make bacon more carcinogenic. But instead of spelling this out, the WHO moves swiftly on to the question of how both red and processed meats might cause cancer, after adding that it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased.

The
The typical British sausages does not fall into the processed meat category. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

This caution has kept us as consumers unnecessarily in the dark. Consider sausages. For years, I believed that the unhealthiest part in a cooked English breakfast was the sausage, rather than the bacon. Before I started to research this article, Id have sworn that sausages fell squarely into the processed meat category. They are wrongly listed as such on the NHS website.

But the average British sausage as opposed to a hard sausage like a French saucisson is not cured, being made of nothing but fresh meat, breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and E223, a preservative that is non-carcinogenic. After much questioning, two expert spokespeople for the US National Cancer Institute confirmed to me that one might consider fresh sausages to be red meat and not processed meat, and thus only a probable carcinogen. (To me, the fact that most sausages are not processed meat was deeply cheering, and set me dancing around the kitchen with glee thinking about toad in the hole.)

In general, if you ask a cancer scientist to distinguish between the risks of eating different types of meat, they become understandably cagey. The two experts at the National Cancer Institute told me that meats containing nitrites and nitrates have consistently been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in human studies. But they added that it is difficult to separate nitrosamines from other possible carcinogens that may be present in processed meats like bacon. These other suspects include haem iron a substance that is abundant in all red meat, processed or not and heterocyclic amines: chemicals that form in meat during cooking. A piece of crispy, overcooked bacon will contain multiple carcinogens, and not all are due to the nitrates.

The problem with this reasoning, as I see it, is that it cant account for why processed meat is so much more closely linked to cancer than cooked red meat. For that, there remains no plausible explanation except for nitrates and nitrites. But looking for clear confirmation of this in the data is tricky, given that humans do not eat in labs under clinical observation.

Most of what we know about processed meat and cancer in humans comes from epidemiology the study of disease across whole populations. But epidemiologists do not ask the kind of detailed questions about food that the people who eat that food may like answers to. The epidemiological data based on surveys of what people eat is now devastatingly clear that diets high in processed meats lead to a higher incidence of cancer. But it cant tell us how or why or which meats are the best or worst. As Corinna Hawkes of City University comments, The researchers dont ask you if you are eating artisanal charcuterie from the local Italian deli or the cheapest hotdogs on the planet.

I would love to see data comparing the cancer risk of eating nitrate-free Parma ham with that of traditional bacon, but no epidemiologist has yet done such a study. The closest anyone has come was a French study from 2015, which found that consumption of nitrosylated haem iron as found in processed meats had a more direct association with colon cancer than the haem iron that is present in fresh red meat.

It may be possible that epidemiologists have not asked people more detailed questions about what kind of processed meats they eat because they assume there is no mass-market alternative to bacon made without nitrates or nitrites. But this is about to change.


The technology now exists to make the pink meats we love in a less damaging form, which raises the question of why the old kind is still so freely sold. Ever since the war on nitrates of the 1970s, US consumers have been more savvy about nitrates than those in Europe, and there is a lot of nitrate-free bacon on the market. The trouble, as Jill Pell remarks, is that most of the bacon labelled as nitrate-free in the US isnt nitrate-free. Its made with nitrates taken from celery extract, which may be natural, but produces exactly the same N-nitroso compounds in the meat. Under EU regulation, this bacon would not be allowed to be labelled nitrate-free.

Its the worst con Ive ever seen in my entire life, says Denis Lynn, the chair of Finnebrogue Artisan, a Northern Irish company that makes sausages for many UK supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer. For years, Lynn had been hoping to diversify into bacon and ham but, he says, I wasnt going to do it until we found a way to do it without nitrates.

When Lynn heard about a new process, developed in Spain, for making perfectly pink, nitrate-free bacon, he assumed it was another blind alley. In 2009, Juan de Dios Hernandez Canovas, a food scientist and the head of the food tech company Prosur, found that if he added certain fruit extracts to fresh pork, it stayed pink for a surprisingly long time.

In January 2018, Finnebrogue used this technology to launch genuinely nitrate-free bacon and ham in the UK. It is sold in Sainsburys and Waitrose as Naked Bacon and Naked Ham, and in M&S as nitrate-free bacon. Kirsty Adams, who oversaw its launch at M&S, explains that its not really cured. Its more like a fresh salted pork injected with a fruit and vegetable extract, and is more perishable than an old-fashioned flitch of bacon but that doesnt matter, given that it is kept in a fridge. Because it is quick to produce, this is much more economically viable to make than some of the other nitrate-free options, such as slow-cured Parma ham. The bacon currently sells in Waitrose for 3 a pack, which is not the cheapest, but not prohibitive either.

I tried some of the Finnebrogue nitrate-free bacon from M&S. The back bacon tasted pleasant and mild, with a slight fruitiness. It didnt have the toothsome texture or smoky depth of a rasher of butchers dry-cured bacon, but Id happily buy it again as an alternative to nitro-meat. None of my family noticed the difference in a spaghetti amatriciana.

Nitrate-free bacon still sounds a bit fancy and niche, but there shouldnt be anything niche about the desire to eat food that doesnt raise your risk of cancer. Lynn says that when he first approached Prosur about the fruit extract, he asked how much they had sold to the other big bacon manufacturers during the two years they had been offering it in the UK. The answer was none. None of the big guys wanted to take it, claims Lynn. They said: It will make our other processed meats look dodgy.

But it also remains to be seen how much consumer demand there will be for nitrate-free bacon. For all the noise about bacon and cancer, it isnt easy to disentangle at a personal level just what kind of risk we are at when we eat a bacon sandwich. OK, so 34,000 people may die each year because of processed meat in their diet, but the odds are that it wont be you. I asked a series of cancer scientists whether they personally ate processed meat, and they all gave slightly different answers. Jill Pell said she was mostly vegetarian and ate processed meats very rarely. But when I asked Fabrice Pierre, a French expert on colon cancer and meat, if he eats ham, he replied: Yes, of course. But with vegetables at the same meal. (Pierres research at the Toxalim lab has shown him that some of the carcinogenic effects of ham can be offset by eating vegetables.)

Our endless doubt and confusion about what we should be eating have been a gift to the bacon industry. The cover-up about the harm of meat cured with nitrate has been helped along by the scepticism many of us feel about all diet advice. At the height of the great bacon scare of 2015, lots of intelligent voices were saying that it was safe to ignore the new classification of processed meats as carcinogenic, because you cant trust anything these nutritionists say. Meanwhile, millions of consumers of ham and bacon, many of them children, are left unprotected. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this controversy is how little public outrage it has generated. Despite everything, most of us still treat bacon as a dear old friend.

In an ideal world, we would all we eating diets lower in meat, processed or otherwise, for the sake of sustainability and animal welfare as much as health. But in the world we actually live in, processed meats are still a normal, staple protein for millions of people who cant afford to swap a value pack of frying bacon for a few slivers of Prosciutto di Parma. Around half of all meat eaten in developed countries is now processed, according to researcher John Kearney, making it a far more universal habit than smoking.

The real victims in all this are not people like me who enjoy the occasional bacon-on-sourdough in a hipster cafe. The people who will be worst affected are those many on low incomes for whom the cancer risk from bacon is compounded by other risk factors such as eating low-fibre diets with few vegetables or wholegrains. In his book, Coudray points out that in coming years, millions more poor consumers will be affected by preventable colon cancer, as westernised processed meats conquer the developing world.

Last month, Michele Rivasi, a French MEP, launched a campaign in collaboration with Coudray demanding a ban of nitrites from all meat products across Europe. Given how vigorously the bacon industry has fought its corner thus far, a total ban on nitrites looks unlikely.

But there are other things that could be done about the risk of nitrites in bacon, short of an absolute veto. Better information would be a start. As Corinna Hawkes points out, it is surprising that there hasnt been more of an effort from government to inform people about the risks of eating ham and bacon, perhaps through warning labels on processed meats. But where is the British politician brave enough to cast doubt on bacon?

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/01/bacon-cancer-processed-meats-nitrates-nitrites-sausages

Julia Louis-Dreyfus posts stunningly defiant post-surgery Instagram photo

Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced her breast cancer diagnosis in September 2017.
Image: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has posted a stunningly defiant photo of herself following surgery for breast cancer, alongside a “fuck you cancer” message. 

In September 2017, the Veep star announced her breast cancer diagnosis, and called for universal health care. 

Louis-Dreyfus has shared updates on Instagram throughout her treatment, including a video her sons made to celebrate her last day of chemotherapy. 

Now, months after her diagnosis, Louis-Dreyfus has shared her first photo taken after her surgery, stating that she’s “feeling happy and ready to rock after surgery.” 

“Hoorah! Great doctors, great results, feeling happy and ready to rock after surgery. Hey cancer, ‘Fuck you!’ Here’s my first post op photo,” she wrote. 

Hoorah, indeed!

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/15/julia-louis-dreyfus-post-surgery-instagram/

Ultra-processed foods may be linked to cancer, says study

Findings suggest increased consumption of ultra-processed foods tied to rise in cancers, but scientists say more research is needed

Ultra-processed foods may be linked to cancer, says study

Findings suggest increased consumption of ultra-processed foods tied to rise in cancers, but scientists say more research is needed

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/14/ultra-processed-foods-may-be-linked-to-cancer-says-study

86% of Teens Have These Toxic Chemicals in Their Bodies

Research published Monday in the journal BMJ Open revealed some frightening statistics about the incidence of Bisphenol A (BPA) among teenagers: 86 percent of 94 teenagers tracking their diet and submitting urine samples in a study showed evidence of BPA in their urine.

The culprit: plastic containers and bottles that seep potentially cancer-causing chemical through food and beverages. The teenage participants attempted to reduce their exposure to BPA by avoiding fruits and vegetables packaged in plastic containers, tinned food, and meals designed to be reheated in a microwave in packaging containing BPA, according to a press statement. Welpanyone whos had a long day and wants to just nuke some food in a microwave could be getting a dose of BPA to boot.

And while the teens were able to reduce their exposure to BPA, one author of the paper noted that its next to impossible to avoid BPA: Our students who followed the BPA-free diet reported that it would be difficult to follow it long term, because labelling of BPA products was inconsistent. They found it difficult to source and identify BPA-free foods.

Thats the crux of a problem highlighted BPA literature for the better part of a decade: Warnings about the health effects of cancer-causing chemicals that trickle into food and beverages from common plastic household products that then enter our systemsfrom babies sucking out of sippy cups to adults storing leftovers to heat up the next day. But its a problem neither public health nor the government has figured out yet.

Its not the first time that urine samples have shown that an overwhelming majority of people have BPA floating in their bodies. A 2003-04 survey conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 93 percent of 2,517 urine samples of people over the age of 6 had BPA in their system, primarily from food and beverage containers; for infants, breast milk was a primary source.

But wasnt BPA labeled a bad guy nearly a decade ago, when bespoke water bottles flashed the fact that they werent made of BPA and made slinging one around in public practically cool? Yes, but the history of BPA in our plastics runs deepand continues to plague Western plastics consumption.

Public health advocates began warning of BPAs dire effects several years ago, as bombshell study after study reported the chemical, which is used to harden polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, could seep into humans as they broke down. Used since the 1960s, the chemical is found in everything from plastic food storage containers to helmets to dental sealants to water bottlesproducts with high usage across all demographics, including children. BPA can seamlessly enter our bodies because its cloaked in a chemical disguise that makes it similar to estrogen. That means genes that respond to estrogen respond to BPA instead, disrupting the endocrine system and wreaking havoc in the regulation of hormones.

Getting even a minute trace of BPA into the bloodstream isnt pretty: Once in the bloodstream, it can lead to a host of serious health issues, including affecting the prostate gland of fetuses, increased risk of high blood pressure, and hyperactivity. BPA has been connected to other, more serious diseases as well, ranging from prostate cancer and heart disease to fundamental disruptions in the endocrine system and genetic expression, according to a database of BPA studies the NIEHS maintains.

Because of their dangerous side effects, children and pregnant women have been especially warned against using products that contain BPA. But health agencies have been slow to react to BPA outside warning Americans to be careful of exposing themselves to products. In fact, a 2008 report from the National Toxicology Program found minimal concern for females, infants, and children exposed to BPA in mammary glands (i.e., breast milk), and negligible concern for pregnant women and those who might be exposed to BPA in their workplace. Meanwhile, there was some concern about how BPA affected brain, behavior, and prostate gland development in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.

What makes sense from a consumer frontavoiding products that explicitly say they are free of BPAisnt necessarily a safe strategy.

That leads to the latest study on BPA, which suggests that the effects are showing up in a majority of teens (who probably went through the first wave of BPA health warnings) and can lay latent until symptoms of more serious diseases show up later in life. On average, the participants in the studystudents in six southwest England aged between 17 and 19 years oldhad 1.22 ng/mL of BPA in their urine. The students were part of a public health initiative designed to see if tracking diet would help them identify sources of BPA, particularly around plastic food storage containers. The researchers not only found that 86 percent of the students showed signs of BPA in their urine, buttroublinglythat it was nearly impossible to avoid BPA in daily life due to poor labeling: We found no evidence in this self-administered intervention study that it was possible to moderate BPA exposure by diet in a real-world setting.

What's even more worrisome is the sheer prevalence of products that contain BPA in everyday life, despite regulations not only in the United States but across the world. As the studyfrom researchers at England's University of Exeterpoints out, the European Food Safety Authority has investigated the health effects of BPA. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration has not outright banned the use of BPA but warned in the 2008 National Toxicology Report that it had some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures, along with a 108-page report that outlined the negative health effects of BPA.

Whats more, alternatives arent exactly a safe bet. The public outcry over BPA had the plastics industry scrambling to create alternate products that were BPA-free yet helped harden plastics the way BPA did, but some early research indicated that these BPA-replacements had the ability to induce estrogenic activity, including baby bottles and sippy cups, that stressed they were BPA-free and used resins like polysterene and Tritan instead.

So what makes sense from a consumer frontavoiding products that explicitly say they are free of BPAisnt necessarily a safe strategy, and its one that the researchers themselves ran into while working with the 94 teens, who reported that they had a hard time outright avoiding products that contained BPA.

We found no evidence in this self-administered intervention study that it was possible to moderate BPA exposure by diet in a real-world setting, the authors noted. Furthermore, our study participants indicated that they would be unlikely to sustain such a diet long term, due to the difficulty in identifying BPA-free foods.

The study has its limits: It focuses on fewer than 100 British teenagers in a specific region in England, and the students self-reported their own dietary restrictions.

But the study highlights two things. First, its nearly impossible to avoid BPA in our food packaging. Second, safe substitutes arent necessarily safe. Better labeling might help, but what will ultimately make for less dismal statistics are outright bans of BPA and better-tested substitutes of plastic hardenersor better yet, avoiding them altogether with equally effective, affordable, accessible optionsthat dont make BPA the unavoidable health threat it has become.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/86-of-teens-have-these-toxic-chemicals-in-their-bodies

Spread of breast cancer linked to compound in asparagus and other foods

Using drugs or diet to reduce levels of asparagine may benefit patients, say researchers

Spread of breast cancer linked to compound in asparagus and other foods

Using drugs or diet to reduce levels of asparagine may benefit patients, say researchers

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/07/cutting-asparagus-could-prevent-spread-of-breast-cancer-study-shows

Cancer Diagnosis from a Blood Draw? Liquid Biopsies Are Still a Dream

Nick Papadopoulos tracks down tumors for a living. Not with X-rays or CT scans, but with DNA. The oncologist and director of translational genetics at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has spent decades uncovering the unique sets of mutations that define cancers—the kind of genetic signals that not only drive tumor formation and metastasis, but distinguish one cancer from another. And now, he’s working to develop a test that could sniff out those signals before a patient starts to get sick.

It’s the kind of test that Papadopoulos thinks could have saved his uncle’s life, had it been around a few years ago. “He had no symptoms until a cough showed up,” he says. But when it didn’t go away he went in for an X-ray, and there on the radiograph were the lesions. Dozens of them, filling his entire chest cavity. The doctors sequenced the tumors, and got him signed up for a clinical trial for a new, targeted drug. It worked for a few of them, shrinking them back to almost nothing. But the rest developed resistance.

“He was supposed to only live two months, and the drugs prolonged his life by a year. But that year wasn’t good.” says Papadopoulos. “I think it’s time to start thinking more about detecting cancers early and less about treating them when they are late.”

On Thursday, Papadopoulos’ research group at Hopkins revealed a novel blood test based on the combined analysis of DNA and proteins that correctly detected eight kinds of the most common cancers with a range of accuracies—from 98 percent for ovarian cancers to less than 40 percent for breast cancers. Published in Science, the test is just one among many so-called “liquid biopsies” in development; noninvasive tests that classify cancers by identifying the tiny bits of DNA that tumors shed into the bloodstream.

Most published studies, including this one, focus on measuring and monitoring advanced tumor stages. A few liquid biopsies have even been approved to help match tumors to targeted drugs. But the dream is to develop a simple blood test to actually diagnose solid tumors in healthy-looking people. The scarcity of circulating cancer biomarkers (both in quality and quantity; tumor DNA makes up less than 0.1 percent of blood) has held those aspirations back for decades. But now, sensitive assays and computational platforms are driving the discovery of biomarkers and better ways to measure them, luring a pack of well-financed startups into the field.

In 2016, for example, the world’s largest sequencing company, San Diego-based Illumina, spun out a new company called Grail. Its mission is described as “detecting cancer early, when it can be cured.” This ambitious aim is supported by $1.2 billion of venture capital Grail raised last year, which it intends to put toward financing massive, population-based clinical studies and optimizing its sensitive sequencing technologies.

Grail has yet to publish any actual data (its website does advertise a commentary published in Cell last year). And neither has its chief rival in the Valley, a machine learning startup called Freenome. That three-year old company snagged a $65 million Series A last March, led by Andreessen Horowitz. Freenome isn’t limiting itself to the genetic breadcrumbs left by tumor cells—it looks to capture other disease signatures in the blood, like how the immune system changes in response to tumor microenvironments.

Of course, Freenome has offered scant details on how exactly that kind of test would work. “You show your cards at the end, not while you’re playing poker,” says Andreessen partner Vijay Pande, who heads the investment firm’s biofunds. “Publications indicate that you’re not interested in building a company.” That said, he does expect Freenome to publish in a peer-reviewed journal ahead of its first foray into the market.

When that could be, though, is anyone’s guess. To evaluate any of these blood screens, thousands of patients will have to get tested—and then researchers will have to wait for some of them to actually get cancer. That’s the only way to determine not only their predictive power, but also whether they lead to improved patient outcomes. The noninvasive screening tests available today—mammography for breast cancer, a protein-measuring test for prostate cancer—are rife with their own issues. Incorrect diagnoses waste time and money on treatments and burden patients with unnecessary anxiety.

Liquid biopsy is likely to be beset by the same kinds of controversy, says Geoff Oxnard, a thoracic oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor at Harvard Medical School. He routinely uses a single-gene liquid biopsy developed at Dana Farber to figure out which drugs represent the best options for his lung cancer patients. But will early detection versions one day be part of routine doctor’s visits? “No. I think these tests will help us better understand the risks for patients who already have a history of cancer in their family or who’ve already had something show up on a scan,” he says. “But I don’t think we have the kind of data we need to support liquid biopsy as a panacea for diagnosing cancer. At the end of the day, it’s still just a shortcut.”

Still, Oxnard pointed out that Papadopoulos’s test represents an important step forward. One, it starts to identify where a tumor might be located. That’s been a big limitation of liquid biopsies; OK, you’ve found cancer, but what do you do next? Where do you look for the tumor? Most mutations don’t tell you anything about location. But by layering in measurements for 31 additional proteins to their machine learning model, the Hopkins team was able, on the first try, to correctly identify the tissue of origin around 80 percent of the time colorectal cancers, pancreatic, and ovarian cancers.

The other advance is cost. Papadopoulos estimates the test could be commercialized for around $500, and cancer-spotting approaches that rely on ultra-deep sequencing could stretch costs for existing screening tests, which only look for a single gene. “This is great for the field and provides promise that these analyses will become a reality in the clinic,” says Victor Velculescu, an oncologist and colleague of Papadopoulos’ at Johns Hopkins, who has also developed liquid biopsy technologies, though he was not involved in the Science study.

The two have developed a sort of friendly turf war as they’ve turned Baltimore into its own little liquid biopsy hub. Both researchers have recently spun off diagnostics companies to further develop their own early detection technology platforms. Earlier this month, Velculescu’s venture, Personal Genome Diagnostics, hauled in a $75 million Series B led by pharma giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. That brings its total financing to $99 million, putting it on par with some of its better-known counterparts in the Valley, adding some bicoastal intrigue to the race to the market. Whatever the outcome, it’s patients who will ultimately be the winners.

“If it can even catch 50 percent of cancers that right now we have no way of screening for, that’s still 50 percent of patients who can now be treated in Stage 1, when they still have a chance,” says Papadopoulos. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to still save a lot of lives.”

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/cancer-diagnosis-from-a-blood-draw-liquid-biopsies-are-still-a-dream/

I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry | Elizabeth Wurtzel

Everyone else can hate cancer. I dont. Everyone else can be afraid of cancer. I am not, writes Elizabeth Wurtzel

I have cancer. Don’t tell me you’re sorry

Everyone else can hate cancer. I dont. Everyone else can be afraid of cancer. I am not, writes Elizabeth Wurtzel

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/20/cancer-elizabeth-wurtzel