Cancer

Perspective on alcohol use and cancer risk

Steven J. Atlas, MD, MPH

There seems to be general agreement that, for most people, moderate alcohol use isn’t particularly harmful to health. At the same time, some people have seen the negative effects of alcohol up close and personal. A new study makes alcohol seem even more controversial, suggesting that there is sufficient evidence to say that alcohol causes several types of cancer. However, this startling news it is based on reinterpretation of existing data and may further muddy the waters on the benefits and risks of alcohol use.

New urine test predicts high-grade prostate cancer

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Researchers believe that a non-invasive screening test that can identify genetic markers for high-grade prostate cancer in urine may eventually reduce the number of prostate biopsies needed. However, experts also caution that while the number of non-invasive tests for prostate cancer diagnosis is growing, these are still early days in their development.

E-cigarettes: Good news, bad news

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

While e-cigarettes do not produce the tar or toxic gases found in cigarette smoke, this doesn’t make them a healthy option. The e-liquid found in e-cigarettes still contains highly addictive nicotine that also increases your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nicotine also increases the risk of addiction to other drugs and may impair brain development. Rather than rely on the perceived benefits of e-cigarettes, people should avoid smoking altogether.

New blood test for colon cancer screening: Questions remain

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Contributor

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new screening test for colon cancer, making it the first blood-based test for this type of cancer. While this test does make it more convenient for people to get screened for colon cancer, it is also less exact than the current screening methods. It is important to discuss your risk factors and screening options with your doctor.

The risks of active surveillance for men with intermediate-risk prostate cancers

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Many men with prostate cancer benefit from active surveillance, in which treatment doesn’t begin unless the cancer spreads. There has been some debate about whether this strategy is safe for men with intermediate-risk prostate cancer. A new study suggests that this type of cancer is more likely to spread than previously thought — but active surveillance can still be a good option for many intermediate-risk men.

Can aspirin protect against cancer?

Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH
Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

You may have heard somewhere that an aspirin a day can prevent cancer. It almost sounds too good to be true. For many people, it is, but for a select few, it might not be. We’ve taken a look at the (often confusing) evidence that gave rise to this statement.

Long-term hormonal therapy benefits men with locally advanced prostate cancer

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Long-term hormonal therapy, which blocks the effect of testosterone on prostate tumors, was once reserved for prostate cancer that has spread. But recent research has found that it had enormous benefits for men with earlier stages of prostate cancer, slashing their risks of metastasis and death from prostate cancer. However, some questions remain — for example, exactly how long to use “long-term hormonal therapy” is still up for debate.

Promising results for a targeted drug in advanced prostate cancer

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

The same BRCA mutations that increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers can also increase a man’s risk of dying from prostate cancer. Recently, an ovarian cancer drug intended for BRCA-positive women has shown impressive results in BRCA-positive men with metastatic prostate cancer. This drug, and others like it, could provide another, much-needed treatment option for men with advanced prostate cancer.

The empowering potential of end-of-life care

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

There’s almost always something we can do to improve our health and well-being — even at the end of our lives. Palliative care is designed to improve the quality of life for people with life-threatening illnesses and their families by keeping a person comfortable and making sure his or her values and preferences guide the medical team’s actions. For this reason, good communication with your care team — and your loved ones — is essential, even before you or a loved one has developed a serious illness.

Taking new aim at cancer

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Last year, only months after announcing that he had an aggressive form of melanoma, former President Carter declared that he was cancer free — thanks at least in part to a recently approved immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy that helps boost the body’s own immune response to cancer. It does so while sparing healthy cells, thus minimizing side effects.