What is Radon? and how does it impact health?

Biomedical Sciences, cancer

By Ross Keller, PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences

You have probably heard vague notions about the health impacts of radon, but what is it exactly? And how does it impact health?

Currently, radon is believed to be the second leading cause of environmentally caused lung cancer, following smoking. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 15,000-22,000 lung cancer related deaths per year are attributable to radon exposure, with the majority of them occurring in smokers who are also exposed to radon (1).

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Radon is radioactive, making it a risk for lung cancer (Pixabay)

Evidence for an increased risk of cancer from radon exposure comes from epidemiological studies as well as animal studies. It was found that occupational exposure to high levels of radon in miners was strongly linked to an increased risk for lung cancer (2). Lower levels of residential radon exposure was also linked to an increased risk in combined analysis of case-control studies in North America (3) and Europe (4). Furthermore, animal studies conducted in the mid-to-late 20th century clearly demonstrated the ability of radon and its decay elements to cause lung carcinomas (5).

What is 6 Weeks Worth? The Cost of Cancer Drugs and Extending Life

Biomedical Sciences

By: Sadie Steffens, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Source: PDPics (Pixabay)

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way.

Second only to heart disease as the leading cause of death, many of us have friends or loved ones who have suffered from cancer. News reports with big claims about novel cancer treatments give us hope, and we have a strong desire to eradicate the disease. We want to believe that a cure is imminent, possibly even in our own lifetime.

Although we don’t discuss it much as a society, cancer affects more than our emotions. We are all paying the financial costs of cancer, costs that are escalating so quickly that they will soon be unsustainable. I’m talking about the cost of cancer drugs.

Why is Tanning Dangerous?

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Do you use tanning beds? Image: Gerlach (Pixabay)

Summer will be here soon, and after being stuck inside all winter, it will be welcomed with open arms.

But as we plan trips to beaches and lakes around the country, a lot of us (including myself) will look at our pale arms and legs and think of ways to get that bronze glow to go along with the summer sun.

Millions of people will soon be soaking up the sun’s rays or purchasing a tanning membership in an effort to achieve a sun-kissed look, but take heed: there is one big reason to rethink lying in the sun or under the lamps of a tanning bed.

There are misconceptions that one way of tanning is less damaging than the other—some circles claim natural sunlight is good for your skin, while others believe the artificial lights of the tanning beds are actually better than sunlight.

In reality, both are dangerous, and the danger lies in the increased risk of developing skin cancer.

War on Cancer: The Future of Cancer Treatment

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

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Cancer cells. Image credit: National Cancer Institute (Wikimedia Commons)

In this fifth and final post of the War on Cancer series, I will discuss the future of cancer treatment. I will also tie in my previous posts of the series, which include:

  1. How Can We Win the War on Cancer?
  2. Targeted Therapy
  3. Tumor Relapse
  4. Tumors as Ecological Systems

As I mentioned in Part 1, cancer is not one disease, but thousands, and these thousands of different diseases evolve as time goes on. Current treatments have improved greatly over the years, meaning people with cancer are living longer than ever before. New ways of treating cancer, however, will be needed to ultimately cure it.

Current research suggests that there will likely be three stages to the future of treatment: (1) discovering more vulnerabilities to target, (2) quickly mapping the genetic profile of individual tumors, and (3) developing drugs that will not only combat a tumor, but keep it from relapsing.

War on Cancer: Tumors as Ecological Systems

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 4th year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Creative Commons

Cancerous cells. (Creative Commons)

The War on Cancer series has so far covered: How Can We Win?, Targeted Therapy, and Tumor Relapse.

In this fourth part of the War on Cancer, I will discuss a phenomenon that has only recently been pushed to the forefront of cancer biology, and it both complicates and opens new doors to treatment strategies. That concept is “tumor heterogeneity”—a tumor that is comprised of multiple types of transformed cells.

The traditional view of tumor formation is simple: DNA within a single cell is damaged, causing it to escape biological constraints and proliferate unchecked. Many tumors do behave like this. However, it has recently come to light that tumors can also be much more complicated. They can be populated by not just a single cell population, but a multitude of cell populations, causing some tumors to behave more like complex ecological systems rather than simple out of control cell divisions.  In fact, some very basic ecology concepts you’ve learned in high school biology may be surprisingly similar to how researchers are beginning to view tumors today.

War on Cancer: Tumor Relapse

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

764px-Chemotherapy_vials_%281%29Chemotherapy is one of the most important aspects of cancer treatment. Although an undesirable, draining procedure, it has extended the lives many cancer patients over many decades.

However, there are significant limitations to drug therapy treatment for cancer. The biggest limitation is the fact that many tumors relapse (return) after treatment. Many don’t understand, however, why or how this happens. How does a tumor come back after it has been treated? And why do promising chemotherapy drugs usually cease to work after relapse?

How Does Animal Research Advance Medicine?

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Animal,Porkey Pig, Lobund-Wistar

A question was submitted to our blog asking: “How does animal research advance medicine?” It is an important question, and I will do my best to answer it.

The average human life expectancy has increased dramatically over the past 100 years. In 1900, most did not live past 50. Now, most will live to see their 75th birthday. This increase is largely due to advances in medicine that would not have been possible without animal research.

In fact, many scientific organizations as well as the World Health Organization and the United States Department of Health and Human Services estimate that animal research has played a part in almost every major medical advancement over the past century. This fact alone underscores the importance that animal research has played in medicine.

Despite all the benefits of animal research in advancing medicine, many opponents of animal research ask the question, “What gives humans the right to use another creature for our own advancement?” It’s true that this is not a question with an easy answer. Every person has his or her own values and is entitled to his or her own opinion on that question.

The War on Cancer: Targeted Therapy

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 3rd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Glivec_400mg (1)In an earlier post, I outlined a potential roadmap for the War on Cancer. I stated that in order to win, we need to define the genetic components of a specific cancer and design treatments based on that component. This is called targeted therapy, and it has actually already been used with success in some cancers, including certain types of leukemia, lung cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma. But what makes a good targeted therapy?

The hallmarks of a good targeted therapy are: specificity, potency, and ability to keep a cancer from relapsing. The best targeted therapies will kill cancer cells only and will do it efficiently so a resistant tumor does not occur following treatment.

How Can We Win the War on Cancer?

Biomedical Sciences

By: Ross Keller, 2nd year PhD candidate in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Lung cancer cell division, SEMIn 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, which later became known as the beginning of the “War on Cancer.” Now, 42 years later, are we any closer to winning the war?

To answer this question, we need to explore what cancer is.

Cancer is described as the uncontrolled growth of our own cells. Normally, cells have a designated number of times then can divide and are genetically programmed when to do so. But when certain genes become “broken” via a mutation, which is a change in the DNA blueprints, the cell is free to divide unchecked.

Interestingly, mutations happen all the time in our cells. There are billions of possible mutations in our genome—but there are also billions and billions of cells. So, why is cancer, overall, rare?