Highlights of VA research on cancer
April 29, 2020
VA Research Spotlight is a monthly roundup of research news on topics affecting Veterans' health. This month, in honor of
National Cancer Control Month, our focus is on research that seeks to understand the causes of cancer and develop new treatments for Veterans and others.
VA research has long been interested in better understanding the underlying causes of different types of cancers, and in finding new treatments. Today, VA researchers are conducting studies aimed at discovering the genetic mechanisms involved in cancer; developing new partnerships to expand access to clinical trials; and improving end-of-life care for cancer patients, to name just a few.
VA Research Currents
VA, Prostate Cancer Foundation seek solutions for aggressive prostate cancer
A partnership between VA and the Prostate Cancer Foundation is speeding the development of treatments and cures for Veterans with aggressive—or metastatic—prostate cancer through precision oncology.... (11/13/2019)
VA National Precision Oncology Program brings tailored cancer treatment to Veterans
An initial study has shown that VA's National Precision Oncology Program has been effective in delivering personalized cancer care. By sequencing tumor samples, the researchers were able to identify mutations that could be treated with approved therapies, or with experimental therapies in clinical trials, for most patients... (10/03/2019)
Early palliative care for advanced lung cancer increases survival
Early palliative care is associated with better survival in patients with advanced lung cancer, according to a study by VA Portland Health Care System and Oregon Health and Science University researchers.... (09/17/2019)
VA aims to expand artificial-intelligence research, appoints inaugural AI director
VA is already using artificial intelligence in several ways, such as for suicide prevention and cancer treatment. Now an effort is underway to widen the role of AI in VA care and research. To that end, VA has appointed its first-ever director of artificial intelligence.... (07/10/2019)
Kansas City VA lab aims to improve prognosis for pancreatic cancer
A team at the Kansas City (Missouri) VAMC is working to boost the effectiveness of a drug seen as the best hope for patients with pancreatic cancer—even if most tumors become resistant to it after a few doses. They also have a nanomedicine-based approach to pancreatic cancer in the works.... (06/10/2019)
VA and partners hope APOLLO program will be leap forward for precision oncology
VA and two federal partners—the Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute—are looking to harness the latest advances in genomic and proteomic medicine to help tailor cancer treatment for individual Veterans and service members. The effort is named APOLLO, after the space mission that landed men on the moon.... (05/01/2019)
A grape-based cancer therapy?
A team at the Washington DC VA is testing an extract made from the skins of muscadine grapes against aggressive forms of prostate cancer in the lab. The work complements a clinical trial based at Johns Hopkins University.... (03/05/2019)
Preventing colon cancer
The VA Colonoscopy Collaborative is a framework for promoting epidemiological research and quality improvement. The ultimate goal is to optimize the effectiveness of colonoscopies in VA and thereby improve Veterans' outcomes.... (02/21/2019)
VA Research in Action
New tools to reduce delays in diagnosing cancer Dr. Hardeep Singh and colleagues at VA’s Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety (IQuESt) in Houston have developed a number of tools—such as triggers within VA’s electronic health record system—designed to prevent delays in follow-up of abnormal test results and diagnosis of cancer.
Precision Oncology Program VA patients nationwide with a common form of lung cancer now routinely have their tumors genetically sequenced to help determine the best therapy, thanks to a program initiated by researchers and clinicians in VA’s New England region. The program is one of several efforts launched by VA in the area of precision oncology.
VA Research News Briefs
Understanding chemotherapy-resistant lung cancer
Photo: Â©iStock/Design Cells
Researchers with the Miami VA Healthcare System uncovered a mechanism by which some lung cancer cells resist the chemotherapy drug cisplatin. Researchers used cells in the lab, human blood samples, and mouse models to examine cancer cells at a molecular level. They found that cisplatin-resistant cells had higher activity of an enzyme called IDO1 and higher levels of reactive oxygen species, a chemical byproduct found in many cancers. Reactive oxygen species can cause cell breakdown. But IDO1 initiates the metabolization of kynurenine (an amino acid), which helps cancer cells cope with excessive reactive oxygen species. The researchers were able to use drugs to suppress IDO1 activity. This increased reactive oxygen species levels and in turn inhibited cancer cell growth. The results suggest that IDO1 inhibitors may be a suitable treatment in patients whose lung cancer resists cisplatin, say the researchers. ( , January 2020) Molecular Cancer Research
Smoking linked to higher prostate cancer mortality
Smoking is linked to a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer, found a VA San Diego Health Care System study. Researchers looked at more than 73,000 VA patients diagnosed with prostate cancer. The rate of death from prostate cancer was 5.2% for currents smokers within 10 years of their diagnosis. Past smokers had a 4.8% mortality rate, while those who never smoked had a rate of 4.5%. The study shows that prostate cancer diagnosis may be an important opportunity to discuss quitting smoking. ( , Oct. 17, 2019) Prostate Cancer and Prostate Diseases
VA relatively free of disparities in colorectal cancer screening
(Photo illustration by Michael Escalante)
Many demographic disparities in colorectal cancer screening seen in the general population do not exist in VA. That is the main finding from a study by VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System researchers. In the database study, the overall colorectal screening rate for VA patients ages 50 to 75 was 82%. Rates were lowest among American Indians/Alaska Natives, those with a history of serious mental illness or substance abuse, and those with the lowest socioeconomic status. However, screening rates even for these groups topped 75%. Older age, Hispanic ethnicity, black race, Asian race, and co-occurring illnesses were all predictors of higher screening rates. Although screening disparities are relatively rare in VA, groups with lower rates might benefit from targeted efforts to increase uptake, say the researchers. ( , Aug. 14, 2019) Medical Care
Low-value prostate cancer screening prevalent in VA
Low-value prostate cancer screening remains prevalent in the VA health system, found a VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System study. Prior research has shown that screening for prostate-specific antigen—a biomarker of prostate cancer in the blood—does not improve survival of men 70 and older. The screening can lead to anxiety about diagnosis and overly aggressive treatment. Out of more than 200,000 male Veterans 75 or older, 18% underwent prostate-specific antigen screening in the study year. The rates of screening for this age group of men varied across VA medical centers, ranging from 3% to 38%. The results show that more efforts are needed to reduce low-value tests in VA, say the researchers. ( , July 5, 2019) Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
VA Research News Briefs