Cancer Research Blog Carnival #38 – Breast Cancer

Reading time: 10 – 16 minutes

Welcome to the 38th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival, the monthly blog carnival that discusses what’s new in cancer research. In recognition of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this edition’s focus is on breast cancer.

There’s a revolution occurring on the Web: those “authoritative” articles written on traditional, static websites are being replaced with blogs, wikis and online social networks. In the sphere of health, medicine and information technology, this “real-time Web” consists of many who are professionals in the field; their posts are listed below.
In the digital age, these are the characteristics of new media: recent, relevant, reachable and reliable.
October is all about pink

Breast Cancer Awareness Month — also referred to as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) — is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.

In 2010, the American Cancer Society estimates that 207,090 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, approximately 54,010 women will be diagnosed with carcinoma in situ (CIS; the earliest non-invasive form of breast cancer), and approximately 39,840 women will die from breast cancer [1]. Indeed, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, following lung cancer.

Self breast exam

In 1975, a woman had a 1 in 11 chance of developing invasive breast cancer some time in her life — today, the chance is even greater at 1 in 8. Although the risk has increased, deaths due to breast cancer have been declining: from 1990 — 2006, death rates decreased by 3.2% per year among women younger than 50, and by 2.0% per year among women 50 and older [2]. This decline in breast cancer mortality has been attributed to improvements in breast cancer treatment and early detection [3].

Animal research has contributed significantly to advances in breast cancer treatment. Animal studies were essential for the development of two front-line drugs that shrink breast cancer tumors, Herceptin and Tamoxifen. Since their mechanisms of action are different, they are used to treat different types of tumors. The drug Tamoxifen blocks tumor growth by blocking the action of estrogen, a hormone involved in the growth of most breast cancers. Tamoxifen binds to the estrogen receptor and blocks estrogen from docking to it. The drug Herceptin binds to another growth-regulating receptor protein called HER2, blocking it’s action and shrinking the tumor. Indeed, there is great value in animal research for the development of treatments to fight breast cancer.

Let’s find out what’s happening this month with breast cancer research.

Cancer Research Blog Carnival #38

Medical Lessons

A recent study on the effect of mammography screening suggested that although screening availability was associated with a reduction in the death rate, the screening itself accounted for only about one third of the total reduction [4]. Dr. Elaine Schattner clues us in on what’s missing in the recent mammography value study.

Healthcare Hacks

Fred Lee reports on a study that finds that the phenolic compounds that may give peaches their distinctive flavor, appearance, and smell can also destroy breast cancer cells [5]. Indeed, it offers a peachy way to fight breast cancer.

Pharma Strategy Blog

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that don’t involve alterations in the genetic code but still get passed from on generation to the next. Dr. Sally Church reviews a study that found that diet and alcohol alter epigenetics of breast cancer and might predict severity of disease [6].

Cancer Research UK – Science Update Blog

Inheriting a mutated copy of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene greatly increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. This is however a rare event and even when it happens, not all women go on to develop cancer. For women with a faulty BRCA1 gene, it turns out that other subtle genetic variations can affect how likely it is to go on to develop the disease [7]. Dr. Kat Arney reports that researchers discover genetic ‘volume control’ for inherited breast cancers.

The Scientist

Breast cancer tumors are thought to originate from the breast’s basal stem cells. Then again, maybe not. Jennifer Welsh describes the recent discovery of a surprise breast cancer source that suggests that different types of breast cancers derive from different cells of origin [8].

Science-Based Medicine

There are no good curative therapies for patients with stage IV cancer. Since science-based medicine can’t “cure” the disease, the decision on which drugs to approve for use is particularly challenging. Dr. David Gorski discusses Avastin and metastatic breast cancer: when science-based medicine collides with FDA regulation.

Connect with Kids

The symbol of breast cancer awareness — the pink ribbon — is well known. Starting in elementary school, children learn to recognize the symbol. With increased awareness, more and more women are being proactive and getting exams earlier. Today, even teenage girls are learning about the importance of female health and what they can do — from exercise to eating right — to prevent or reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. Connect with Kids focuses on kids and breast cancer awareness.

Biomarker Commons

Although disease biomarkers are used widely in medicine, very few biomarkers are useful for cancer diagnosis and monitoring. A recent commentary in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that the excess of parameters before, during and after sample analysis complicates biomarker discovery and validation, leading to false discoveries [9]. Biomarker Commons reposts The Cancer Biomarker Conundrum: Too Many False Discoveries.

Kevin M.D.

Dr. Karen Lu suggests that even young and healthy women should be aware of gynecologic cancers and reviews 10 cancer signs women shouldn’t ignore.

Healthcare Hacks

Watercress, one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by people, is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant native to Europe to central Asia. It’s been claimed to be a source of phytochemicals and antioxidants, a diuretic and an expectorant. An now perhaps a way to block blood blood vessel formation or angiogenesis. Fred Lee reports on a study that finds that a compound in watercress may help combat breast cancer [10].


Clinical thermography is a non-invasive, infrared imaging procedure used to screen for breast cancer or other breast diseases, based on the measurement of skin surface temperature as a reflection of normal or abnormal human physiology. The principle behind the technique is the angiogenic characteristic of tumors in the breast. The Cancer Society of New Zealand recently published a position statement to raise public awareness that there is a lack of large scale data available to judge the technique’s sensitivity and specificity [11]. Darcy Cowan questions breast cancer thermography — good, bad or in-between?

Stem Cell Network Blog

Mild stress can activate the protein NF-kB and downstream cellular pathways that can lead to future stress resistance. While this is good for normal cells, it’s bad when it’s pancreatic cancer cells being targeted with chemotherapy. Although the drug Sorafenib has anti-tumor activity in pancreatic cancer, following an initial response period cancer cells become insensitive, possibly because Sorafenib activates NF-kB. Chris Kamel discusses a recent study focused on enhancing cancer stem cell drugs by interfering with NF-kB [12].

Science-Based Medicine

Science-based medicine is challenging because, as new evidence and data become available, adjustments have to be made. Most recently, mammography screening has come under scrutiny and has been found to be less effective in preventing death from breast cancer that previously thought. Another recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine supports this conclusion [13]. As the mammography wars heat up again, Dr. David Gorski chooses a middle ground and describes a recent NEJM editorial, suggesting that screening for breast cancer is not a black-and-white decision for every woman [14].

Kevin M.D.

Pseudoscience is everywhere today, especially in medical therapies. In this day and age, Jackie Fox asks, how can anyone deny scientifically sound treatment for breast cancer?

Communicate Science

Dr. James Watson, one of co-discoverers of the structure of DNA in 1953, presented the inaugural Cancer Lecture of the Cork Cancer Research Centre at University College Cork in Ireland last month. Watson is Chancellor Emeritus at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and his ongoing research is focused on finding a cure for cancer. Eoin Lettice reports on a geneticist’s view of cancer.


That concludes the 38th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival. If you’d like to make a difference in the fight against breast cancer during the month, visit the American Cancer Society and make a donation. Be sure to ‘designate’ your gift for breast cancer.

If you’d like to follow the latest in cancer research every month, the Cancer Research Blog Carnival has subscription options; you can follow by email or RSS feed. An aggregated feed of credible, rotating health and medicine blog carnivals is also available.

The Cancer Research Blog Carnival is looking for future hosts. You can find both the hosting schedule and past editions at the Cancer Research Blog Carnival website.


  1. Breast Cancer Overview. The American Cancer Society. Accessed 2010 Sep 27.
  2. Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2009-2010. The American Cancer Society. Accessed 2010 Sep 27.
  3. Berry et al. Effect of screening and adjuvant therapy on mortality from breast cancer. N Engl J Med. 2005 Oct 27;353(17):1784-92.
    View abstract
  4. Kalager et al. Effect of screening mammography on breast-cancer mortality in Norway. N Engl J Med. 2010 Sep 23;363(13):1203-10.
    View abstract
  5. Noratto et al. Identifying peach and plum polyphenols with chemopreventive potential against estrogen-independent breast cancer cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Jun 24;57(12):5219-26.
    View abstract
  6. Christensen et al. Breast cancer DNA methylation profiles are associated with tumor size and alcohol and folate intake. PLoS Genet. 2010 Jul 29;6(7):e1001043.
    View abstract
  7. Antoniou et al. A locus on 19p13 modifies risk of breast cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers and is associated with hormone receptor-negative breast cancer in the general population. Nat Genet. 2010 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]
    View abstract
  8. Molyneux et al. BRCA1 basal-like breast cancers originate from luminal epithelial progenitors and not from basal stem cells. Cell Stem Cell. 2010 Sep 3;7(3):403-17.
    View abstract
  9. Diamandis EP. Cancer Biomarkers: Can We Turn Recent Failures into Success? J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010 Aug 12. [Epub ahead of print]
    View abstract
  10. Syed Alwi et al. In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: a pilot study. Br J Nutr. 2010 Jun 15:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]
    View abstract
  11. Position Statement: The use of thermography as a breast cancer screening or diagnostic tool. The Cancer Society of New Zealand. 2010 June.
  12. Rausch et al. Synergistic activity of sorafenib and sulforaphane abolishes pancreatic cancer stem cell characteristics. Cancer Res. 2010 Jun 15;70(12):5004-13. Epub 2010 Jun 8.
    View abstract
  13. Kalager et al. Effect of screening mammography on breast-cancer mortality in Norway. N Engl J Med. 2010 Sep 23;363(13):1203-10.
    View abstract
  14. Quanstrum and Hayward. Lessons from the mammography wars. N Engl J Med. 2010 Sep 9;363(11):1076-9.
    View abstract
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.