Colorectal cancer diagnoses have increased among people under age 50 in recent years and researchers are seeking reasons why. A new study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found a link between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer in women under age 50.

The findings suggest that heavy consumption of sugary drinks during adolescence (ages 13 to 18) and adulthood can increase the disease risk.

The study, published in the journal Gut, provides more support for public health efforts that encourage people to reduce the amount of sugar they consume.

“Colorectal cancer in younger adults remains relatively rare, but the fact that the rates have been increasing over the past three decades — and we don’t understand why — is a major public health concern and a priority in cancer prevention,” said senior author Yin Cao, ScD, an associate professor of surgery and of medicine in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University.

“Due to the increase in colorectal cancer at younger ages, the average age of colorectal cancer diagnosis has gone down from 72 years to 66 years. These cancers are more advanced at diagnosis and have different characteristics compared with cancers from older populations.

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“Our lab is funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network to identify risk factors, the molecular landscapes, and precision screening strategies for these cancers so that they can be detected earlier and even prevented,” said Cao.

“In past work, we have shown that poor diet quality was associated with increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer precursors, but we have not previously examined specific nutrients or foods.”

Compared with women who drank less than one 8-ounce serving per week of sugar-sweetened beverages, those who drank two or more servings per day had just over twice the risk of developing early-onset colorectal cancer, meaning it was diagnosed before age 50.

The researchers calculated a 16 percent increase in risk for each 8-ounce serving per day. And from ages 13 to 18, an important time for growth and development, each daily serving was linked to a 32 percent increased risk of eventually developing colorectal cancer before age 50.

Sugar-sweetened drink consumption has been linked to metabolic health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, including in children. But less is known about whether such high-sugar beverages could have a role in the increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in younger people.

Like early-onset colorectal cancer rates, consumption of such drinks has increased over the past 20 years, with the highest consumption level found among adolescents and young adults ages 20 to 34.

While sugar-sweetened beverages were linked to an increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer, some other drinks — including milk and coffee — were associated with a decreased risk.

This observational study can’t demonstrate that drinking sugary beverages causes this type of cancer or that drinking milk or coffee is protective, but the researchers said that replacing sweetened beverages with unsweetened drinks, such as milk and coffee, is a better choice for long-term health.

“Given this data, we recommend that people avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and instead choose drinks like milk and coffee without sweeteners,” Cao said.

Scientists discover how to trick cancer cells to consume toxic drugs

New research led by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) points to a promising strategy to boost tumors’ intake of cancer drugs, thereby increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments. The group’s findings are published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Getting enough anticancer drugs into a tumour is often difficult, and a potential strategy to overcome this challenge involves binding the medications to albumin, the most abundant protein in blood.

The strategy relies on tumours’ large appetite for protein nutrients that fuel malignant growth. When consuming available albumin, the tumours will inadvertently take in the attached drugs.

A popular albumin-bound drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is nanoparticle albumin-bound paclitaxel (nab-PTX), and it has been successfully used to treat late-stage lung and pancreatic cancers.

“Not all patients respond to nab-PTX, though, and the effectiveness of its delivery to tumors has been mixed, owing to an incomplete understanding of how albumin impacts drug delivery and actions,” says Dr Miles Miller, a principal investigator in the MGH Center for Systems Biology and assistant professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School.

To provide insights, Miller and his colleagues assessed the delivery of nab-PTX to tumors at a single-cell resolution in mouse models of cancer. Using 3D microscopy and what’s called tissue clearing technology, the team found that cancer cells can take up a significant amount of nab-PTX and that the consumption of these drugs is controlled by signaling pathways that are involved in the cells’ uptake of nutrients such as albumin.

“This discovery suggested that if we could manipulate these pathways, we might be able to trick cancer cells into a nutrient-starved state, thereby enhancing their consumption of nab-PTX,” explains Dr Ran Li, first author on the study and an instructor in the MGH Department of Radiology and the Center for Systems Biology.

Indeed, treating tumors with an inhibitor of insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor, an important component of one of the signaling pathways, improved the accumulation of nab-PTX in tumors and boosted its effectiveness.

“These results offer new possibilities to improve the delivery of albumin-bound drugs in patients with diverse types of cancer,” says Miller.

Your saliva could reveal whether you’ve had a concussion

A blow to the head may not only cause you to see stars, it could also leave you spitting evidence of a concussion. Scientists in the United Kingdom have shown they can detect whether someone has suffered a concussion by looking for certain molecules in the person’s saliva,  Over two seasons, researchers studied saliva samples from more than 1000 rugby players in England’s top two professional leagues, including 156 who were subjected to a standard head injury assessment, of which 106 were found to have concussions.

The scientists also collected data from 102 uninjured players and 66 players with nonhead injuries. Using data from the first season, the scientists identified 14 different noncoding RNAs that appeared to distinguish concussed from nonconcussed players. Data from the second season showed the tests work with 94 percent accuracy, the researchers reported this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The advance could someday open the way for a fast spit test to screen for concussion, although the method was not tested on women.

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