Cancer: blood biopsies and dogs’ noses

The 511

Back in the 20th century, we called 411 for information. Today, information’s aplenty, so you’re looking for something more. The 511 includes: 

  • ~5 short paragraphs about medtech, biotech, or another science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Cancer touches all of us

Who among us has not lost a loved one from cancer? When I was six years old, my grandfather passed away from lung cancer. He smoked, worked with petro-chemicals, and raced cars on the short track. Cancer remains the no. 2 cause of death in the US (heart disease tops the charts), even though — since 2016 — “the cancer death rate for men and women combined had fallen 27% from its peak in 1991.” A good share of that decrease has to do with smoking cessation and early diagnosis and treatment.

The past couple of weeks brings more good news in terms of early diagnosis. In August, the FDA approved Foundation Medicine’s Liquid CDx test, a biopsy blood test that, as noted in Fierce Biotech, “returns reports on more than 300 alterations in cancer-related genes … to predict a person’s response to certain therapies.” There’s no need to remove tissue from a tumor, then, which for many cancer patients is prohibitive. The CDx test may also help illuminate how tumors evolve.

Biotech heavyweight Grail made two announcements last week: their IPO (“GRAL,” on NASDAQ), as well as a 2021 launch date for Galleri, their rival biopsy blood test. Grail’s clinical research indicates that Galleri can detect more than 50 types of cancer and, 93% of the time, identify the specific organ affected by the tumor. Grail’s fanboys include Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, and the company has 165,000 people enrolled in three large-scale studies. Other key players in this space include Guardant Health and Thrive.

Gender and racialized differences in the numbers

The progress on the numbers for new cancer cases is impressive, but differences persist. In terms of the decline in the cancer death rates from 2007-2016, men made larger strides than women (1.8% vs. 1.4%). Varying rates of decline have long been explained by rates of smoking. But that’s no longer the case. The varying rates between Blacks and whites, though, has a lot to do with smoking. Black smokers smoke fewer cigarettes than white smokers, but die at a higher rate. Menthol cigarettes are the likely culprit. Historically, manufacturers of menthol cigarettes have targeted their marketing campaigns to Black consumers. As a result, menthols are more popular among Black smokers, correlate closely with higher absorption rates of lethal chemicals, and may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.

Let’s hope that the new blood biopsy tests promote equitable rates of diagnosis. Cancer prevention techniques may otherwise go to the dogs — but that’s okay, because select dogs can use their sensitive noses to detect cancerous fumes wafting from diseased cells. Seriously: see the long but incredible story here.

5(1)1 — On leading and niceness

“Many people think if you’re nice, you’re not tough. But Win/Win is nice … and tough. It’s twice as tough as Win/Lose.”

Stephen Covey, Daily Reflections, p. 260 (from the Sept. 16 entry)
51(1) — In rotation: Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop”

Last week, we lost Toots Hibbert, lead singer for Toots and the Maytals, at age 77. Ugh. A true ambassador for Jamaica and reggae, and he and his band really understood one of my favorite cross-genre connections in the history of popular music: punk and reggae.

Here ya go. Ooh, that bass line. And the “oh yeahs,” too.

If you like this stuff, and you know someone interested in health, leadership, and music, all mixed up with a dash of humor, please spread the word.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, drop me a note, if you like what you see.

If you want to talk about a project with words, drop me a line over here.



Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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