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1.  How Breast Cancer Patients Want to Search for and Retrieve Information From Stories of Other Patients on the Internet: an Online Randomized Controlled Experiment 
Background
Other patients’ stories on the Internet can give patients information, support, reassurance, and practical advice.
Objectives
 We examined which search facility for online stories resulted in patients’ satisfaction and search success.
Methods
 This study was a randomized controlled experiment with a 2x2 factorial design conducted online. We facilitated access to 170 stories of breast cancer patients in four ways based on two factors: (1) no versus yes search by story topic, and (2) no versus yes search by writer profile. Dutch speaking women with breast cancer were recruited. Women who gave informed consent were randomly assigned to one of four groups. After searching for stories, women were offered a questionnaire relating to satisfaction with the search facility, the stories retrieved, and impact of the stories on coping with breast cancer. Of 353 enrolled women, 182 (51.6%) completed the questionnaire: control group (n = 37), story topics group (n = 49), writer profile group (n = 51), and combination group (n = 45).
Results
 Questionnaire completers were evenly distributed over the four groups (χ2 3 = 3.7, P = .30). Women who had access to the story topics search facility (yes vs no): were more positive about (mean scores 4.0 vs 3.6, P = .001) and more satisfied with the search facility (mean scores 7.3 vs 6.3, P < .001); were more positive about the number of search options (mean scores 2.3 vs 2.1, P = .04); were better enabled to find desired information (mean scores 3.3 vs 2.8, P = .001); were more likely to recommend the search facility to others or intend to use it themselves (mean scores 4.1 vs 3.5, P < .001); were more positive about how retrieved stories were displayed (mean scores 3.6 vs 3.2, P = .001); retrieved stories that better covered their information needs (mean scores 3.0 vs 2.6, P = .02); were more satisfied with the stories retrieved (mean scores 7.1 vs 6.4, P = .002); and were more likely to report an impact of the stories on coping with breast cancer (mean scores 3.2 vs 2.9, P =. 02). Three main effects were associated with use of the writer profile search (yes vs no): being more positive about (mean scores 3.9 vs 3.6, P = .005) and more satisfied with the search facility (mean scores 7.1 vs 6.5, P =. 01), and being more positive about how retrieved stories were displayed (mean scores 3.8 vs 2.9, P < .001). For satisfaction with the search facility, an interaction effect was found (P = .03): at least one of the two search facilities was needed for satisfaction.
Conclusions
Having access to the story topics search facility clearly had the most positive effect on patient satisfaction and search success.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1215
PMCID: PMC2855205  PMID: 20215101
Breast cancer; life experiences; social support; Internet; information retrieval; patient satisfaction.
2.  Coverage of common cancer types in UK national newspapers: a content analysis 
BMJ Open  2014;4(7):e004677.
Objective
To determine whether recent newspaper coverage of the four most common cancer types relates to their relative burden and national awareness months, and to identify the subject focus during high-coverage periods.
Design
Content analysis using the Nexis newspaper article database.
Setting
UK 2011–2012.
Outcome measures
Annual number and ranking, monthly proportions and subject of articles on breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancers.
Results
9178 articles were identified during 2011 and 2012 featuring breast (4237), prostate (1757), lung (1746) and bowel (1438) cancer. Peaks in monthly proportions above the 99% upper confidence limit were identified for each. Breast cancer had the highest coverage of 12% and 17% during its awareness month. Smaller peaks (11%) were identified during Bowel Cancer Awareness month. Prostate cancer received high coverage in relation to the case of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing who had been diagnosed with the cancer, and lung cancer in relation to the deaths of celebrities. Breast cancer was covered most often overall and by newspaper category while the lower coverage of other cancer types did not consistently mirror the relative number of new cases each year. The peaks by newspaper category were similar to the overall coverage with few exceptions.
Conclusions
UK newspaper coverage of common cancer types other than of the breast appears under-represented relative to their population burden. Coverage of breast cancer and bowel cancer appears to be influenced by their awareness months, while that of prostate cancer and lung cancer is influenced by other media stories. Health-promoting public bodies and campaigners could learn from the success of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and work more closely with journalists to ensure that the relevant messages reach wider audiences.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004677
PMCID: PMC4120380  PMID: 25015469
PUBLIC HEALTH; ONCOLOGY; MEDICAL JOURNALISM
3.  A Comprehensive Analysis of Breast Cancer News Coverage in Leading Media Outlets Focusing on Environmental Risks and Prevention 
Breast cancer has a high profile in the news media, which are a major source of information for cancer patients and the general public. To determine the nature of breast cancer news coverage available to audiences, particularly on the topics of environmental risks and prevention, this content analysis measured a broad array of dimensions in 231 stories appearing in nine leading newspapers, newsmagazines, and television networks in 2003 and 2004. One fourth of all stories reported on various risks such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use. Very few items specifically addressed risks related to controllable lifestyle practices such as prepubertal obesity or chemical contaminants in the environment. About one third of the stories included prevention content, primarily focusing narrowly on use of pharmaceutical products. Little information described risk reduction via other individual preventive behaviors (e.g., diet, exercise, and smoking), parental protective measures, or collective actions to combat contamination sites. The more traditional categories of prevalence, detection, and treatment were featured in one third, one quarter, and two fifths of the news items, respectively. There were twice as many stories featuring personal narratives as statistical figures, and two thirds of all the news items cited expert medical professionals, researchers, or organizations. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are addressed.
doi:10.1080/10810730701806912
PMCID: PMC2819383  PMID: 18307133
4.  A Novel Intervention Using Interactive Technology and Personal Narratives to Reduce Cancer Disparities: African American Breast Cancer Survivor Stories 
Purpose
There has been a paucity of interventions developed for African American women to address persistent health disparities between African American and Caucasian breast cancer patients. We developed and piloted a technologically innovative, culturally targeted, cancer-communication intervention for African American breast cancer patients using African American breast cancer survivor stories.
Methods
We rated 917 clips from a video library of survivors’ stories for likability, clarity and length, and emotional impact (scaled responses) and categorized each clip by theme (Coping, Support and Relationships, Healthcare Experiences, Follow-up Care, Quality of Life, and Treatment Side Effects). We selected 207 clips told by 35 survivors (32–68 years old; 4–30 years after diagnosis), fitting one of 12 story topics, for inclusion in the interactive video program loaded onto a touch-screen computer. Videos can be searched by storyteller or story topics; stories with the strongest emotional impact were displayed first in the video program.
Results
We pilot tested the video program with 10 African American breast cancer survivors (mean age, 54; range 39–68), who, after training, watched videos and then evaluated the stories and video-program usability. Survivor stories were found to be “interesting and informative,” and usability was rated highly. Participants identified with storytellers (e.g., they “think a lot like me,” “have values like mine”) and agreed that the stories convinced them to receive recommended surveillance mammograms.
Conclusions
This novel, cancer-communication technology using survivor stories was very favorably evaluated by breast cancer survivors and is now being tested in a randomized controlled clinical trial.
doi:10.1007/s11764-013-0308-4
PMCID: PMC3945406  PMID: 24030573
Breast Cancer; Survivor Stories; African Americans; Cancer communication; Narratives; Cancer information
5.  Evaluation of a Minimally Invasive Cell Sampling Device Coupled with Assessment of Trefoil Factor 3 Expression for Diagnosing Barrett's Esophagus: A Multi-Center Case–Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2015;12(1):e1001780.
Background
Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a commonly undiagnosed condition that predisposes to esophageal adenocarcinoma. Routine endoscopic screening for BE is not recommended because of the burden this would impose on the health care system. The objective of this study was to determine whether a novel approach using a minimally invasive cell sampling device, the Cytosponge, coupled with immunohistochemical staining for the biomarker Trefoil Factor 3 (TFF3), could be used to identify patients who warrant endoscopy to diagnose BE.
Methods and Findings
A case–control study was performed across 11 UK hospitals between July 2011 and December 2013. In total, 1,110 individuals comprising 463 controls with dyspepsia and reflux symptoms and 647 BE cases swallowed a Cytosponge prior to endoscopy. The primary outcome measures were to evaluate the safety, acceptability, and accuracy of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test compared with endoscopy and biopsy.
In all, 1,042 (93.9%) patients successfully swallowed the Cytosponge, and no serious adverse events were attributed to the device. The Cytosponge was rated favorably, using a visual analogue scale, compared with endoscopy (p < 0.001), and patients who were not sedated for endoscopy were more likely to rate the Cytosponge higher than endoscopy (Mann-Whitney test, p < 0.001). The overall sensitivity of the test was 79.9% (95% CI 76.4%–83.0%), increasing to 87.2% (95% CI 83.0%–90.6%) for patients with ≥3 cm of circumferential BE, known to confer a higher cancer risk. The sensitivity increased to 89.7% (95% CI 82.3%–94.8%) in 107 patients who swallowed the device twice during the study course. There was no loss of sensitivity in patients with dysplasia. The specificity for diagnosing BE was 92.4% (95% CI 89.5%–94.7%). The case–control design of the study means that the results are not generalizable to a primary care population. Another limitation is that the acceptability data were limited to a single measure.
Conclusions
The Cytosponge-TFF3 test is safe and acceptable, and has accuracy comparable to other screening tests. This test may be a simple and inexpensive approach to identify patients with reflux symptoms who warrant endoscopy to diagnose BE.
Editors' Summary
Background
Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining the esophagus (the tube that transports food from the mouth to the stomach) change and begin to resemble the cells lining the intestines. Although some people with Barrett's esophagus complain of burning indigestion or acid reflux from the stomach into the esophagus, many people have no symptoms or do not seek medical advice, so the condition often remains undiagnosed. Long-term acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease), obesity, and being male are all risk factors for Barrett's esophagus, but the condition's exact cause is unclear. Importantly, people with Barrett's esophagus are more likely to develop esophageal cancer than people with a normal esophagus, especially if a long length (segment) of the esophagus is affected or if the esophagus contains abnormally growing “dysplastic” cells. Although esophageal cancer is rare in the general population, 1%–5% of people with Barrett's esophagus develop this type of cancer; about half of people diagnosed with esophageal cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Early detection and treatment of esophageal cancer increases an affected individual's chances of survival. Thus, experts recommend that people with multiple risk factors for Barrett's esophagus undergo endoscopic screening—a procedure that uses a small camera attached to a long flexible tube to look for esophageal abnormalities. Once diagnosed, patients with Barrett's esophagus generally enter an endoscopic surveillance program so that dysplastic cells can be identified as soon as they appear and removed using endoscopic surgery or “radiofrequency ablation” to prevent cancer development. However, although endoscopic screening of everyone with reflux symptoms for Barrett's esophagus could potentially reduce deaths from esophageal cancer, such screening is not affordable for most health care systems. In this case–control study, the researchers investigate whether a cell sampling device called the Cytosponge coupled with immunohistochemical staining for Trefoil Factor 3 (TFF3, a biomarker of Barrett's esophagus) can be used to identify individuals who warrant endoscopic investigation. A case–control study compares the characteristics of patients with and without a specific disease. The Cytosponge is a small capsule-encased sponge that is attached to a string. The capsule rapidly dissolves in the stomach after being swallowed, and the sponge collects esophageal cells for TFF3 staining when it is retrieved by pulling on the string.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 463 individuals attending 11 UK hospitals for investigational endoscopy for dyspepsia and reflux symptoms as controls, and 647 patients with Barrett's esophagus who were attending hospital for monitoring endoscopy. Before undergoing endoscopy, the study participants swallowed a Cytosponge so that the researchers could evaluate the safety, acceptability, and accuracy of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test for the diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus compared with endoscopy. Nearly 94% of the participants swallowed the Cytosponge successfully, there were no adverse effects attributed to the device, and those participants that swallowed the device generally rated the experience as acceptable. The overall sensitivity of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test (its ability to detect true positives) was 79.9%. That is, 79.9% of the individuals with endoscopically diagnosed Barrett's esophagus were identified as having the condition using the new test. The sensitivity of the test was greater among patients who had a longer length of affected esophagus and importantly was not reduced in patients with dysplasia. Compared to endoscopy, the specificity of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test (its ability to detect true negatives) was 92.4%. That is, 92.4% of people unaffected by Barrett's esophagus were correctly identified as being unaffected.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The case–control design of this study means that its results are not generalizable to a primary care population. Also, the study used only a single measure of the acceptability of the Cytosponge-TFF3 test, Nevertheless, these findings indicate that this minimally invasive test for Barrett's esophagus is safe and acceptable, and that its accuracy is similar to that of colorectal cancer and cervical cancer screening tests. The Cytosponge-TFF3 test might, therefore, provide a simple, inexpensive way to identify those patients with reflux symptoms who warrant endoscopy to diagnose Barrett's esophagus, although randomized controlled trials of the test are needed before its routine clinical implementation. Moreover, because most people with Barrett's esophagus never develop esophageal cancer, additional biomarkers ideally need to be added to the test before its routine implementation to identify those individuals who have the greatest risk of esophageal cancer, and thereby avoid overtreatment of Barrett's esophagus.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001780.
The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provides detailed information about Barrett's esophagus and gastroesophageal reflux disease
The US National Cancer Institute provides information for patients and health professionals about esophageal cancer (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK (a non-profit organization) provides detailed information about Barrett's esophagus (including a video about having the Cytosponge test and further information about this study, the BEST2 Study) and about esophageal cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has pages on the complications of gastroesophageal reflux and on esophageal cancer (including a real story)
Heartburn Cancer Awareness Support is a non-profit organization that aims to improve public awareness and provides support for people affected by Barrett's esophagus; the organization's website explains the range of initiatives to promote education and awareness as well as highlighting personal stories of those affected by Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer
The British Society of Gastroenterology has published guidelines on the diagnosis and management of Barrett's esophagus
The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published guidelines for gastroesophageal reflux
The Barrett's Esophagus Campaign is a UK-based non-profit organization that supports research into the condition and provides support for people affected by Barrett's esophagus; its website includes personal stories about the condition
In a multi-center case-control study, Rebecca Fitzgerald and colleagues examine whether a minimally invasive cell sampling device could be used to identify patients who warrant endoscopy to diagnose Barrett's esophagus.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001780
PMCID: PMC4310596  PMID: 25634542
6.  Risk Prediction for Breast, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancer in White Women Aged 50 y or Older: Derivation and Validation from Population-Based Cohort Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001492.
Ruth Pfeiffer and colleagues describe models to calculate absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers for white, non-Hispanic women over 50 years old using easily obtainable risk factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers share some hormonal and epidemiologic risk factors. While several models predict absolute risk of breast cancer, there are few models for ovarian cancer in the general population, and none for endometrial cancer.
Methods and Findings
Using data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50+ y from two large population-based cohorts (the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial [PLCO] and the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study [NIH-AARP]), we estimated relative and attributable risks and combined them with age-specific US-population incidence and competing mortality rates. All models included parity. The breast cancer model additionally included estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) use, other MHT use, age at first live birth, menopausal status, age at menopause, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, benign breast disease/biopsies, alcohol consumption, and body mass index (BMI); the endometrial model included menopausal status, age at menopause, BMI, smoking, oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and an interaction term between BMI and MHT use; the ovarian model included oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and family history or breast or ovarian cancer. In independent validation data (Nurses' Health Study cohort) the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated; expected to observed cancer ratios were 1.00 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96–1.04) for breast cancer and 1.08 (95% CI: 0.97–1.19) for ovarian cancer. The number of endometrial cancers was significantly overestimated, expected/observed = 1.20 (95% CI: 1.11–1.29). The areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves (AUCs; discriminatory power) were 0.58 (95% CI: 0.57–0.59), 0.59 (95% CI: 0.56–0.63), and 0.68 (95% CI: 0.66–0.70) for the breast, ovarian, and endometrial models, respectively.
Conclusions
These models predict absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers from easily obtainable risk factors and may assist in clinical decision-making. Limitations are the modest discriminatory ability of the breast and ovarian models and that these models may not generalize to women of other races.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, just three types of cancer accounted for 10% of global cancer-related deaths. That year, about 460,000 women died from breast cancer (the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women and the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death). Another 140,000 women died from ovarian cancer, and 74,000 died from endometrial (womb) cancer (the 14th and 20th most common causes of cancer-related death, respectively). Although these three cancers originate in different tissues, they nevertheless share many risk factors. For example, current age, age at menarche (first period), and parity (the number of children a woman has had) are all strongly associated with breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer risk. Because these cancers share many hormonal and epidemiological risk factors, a woman with a high breast cancer risk is also likely to have an above-average risk of developing ovarian or endometrial cancer.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several statistical models (for example, the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool) have been developed that estimate a woman's absolute risk (probability) of developing breast cancer over the next few years or over her lifetime. Absolute risk prediction models are useful in the design of cancer prevention trials and can also help women make informed decisions about cancer prevention and treatment options. For example, a woman at high risk of breast cancer might decide to take tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention, but ideally she needs to know her absolute endometrial cancer risk before doing so because tamoxifen increases the risk of this cancer. Similarly, knowledge of her ovarian cancer risk might influence a woman's decision regarding prophylactic removal of her ovaries to reduce her breast cancer risk. There are few absolute risk prediction models for ovarian cancer, and none for endometrial cancer, so here the researchers develop models to predict the risk of these cancers and of breast cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Absolute risk prediction models are constructed by combining estimates for risk factors from cohorts with population-based incidence rates from cancer registries. Models are validated in an independent cohort by testing their ability to identify people with the disease in an independent cohort and their ability to predict the observed numbers of incident cases. The researchers used data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older that were collected during two large prospective US cohort studies of cancer screening and of diet and health, and US cancer incidence and mortality rates provided by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program to build their models. The models all included parity as a risk factor, as well as other factors. The model for endometrial cancer, for example, also included menopausal status, age at menopause, body mass index (an indicator of the amount of body fat), oral contraceptive use, menopausal hormone therapy use, and an interaction term between menopausal hormone therapy use and body mass index. Individual women's risk for endometrial cancer calculated using this model ranged from 1.22% to 17.8% over the next 20 years depending on their exposure to various risk factors. Validation of the models using data from the US Nurses' Health Study indicated that the endometrial cancer model overestimated the risk of endometrial cancer but that the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated—the predicted and observed risks for these cancers in the validation cohort agreed closely. Finally, the discriminatory power of the models (a measure of how well a model separates people who have a disease from people who do not have the disease) was modest for the breast and ovarian cancer models but somewhat better for the endometrial cancer model.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer can all be predicted using information on known risk factors for these cancers that is easily obtainable. Because these models were constructed and validated using data from white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older, they may not accurately predict absolute risk for these cancers for women of other races or ethnicities. Moreover, the modest discriminatory power of the breast and ovarian cancer models means they cannot be used to decide which women should be routinely screened for these cancers. Importantly, however, these well-calibrated models should provide realistic information about an individual's risk of developing breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer that can be used in clinical decision-making and that may assist in the identification of potential participants for research studies.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001492.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Lars Holmberg and Andrew Vickers
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer;
Information on the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, and on the prospective cohort study of screening and the diet and health study that provided the data used to build the models is also available on the NCI site
Cancer Research UK, a not-for-profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer; the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer and ovarian cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001492
PMCID: PMC3728034  PMID: 23935463
7.  Receptor-Defined Subtypes of Breast Cancer in Indigenous Populations in Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001720.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Isabel dos Santos Silva and colleagues estimate the prevalence of receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in Africa. Receptor-defined subtypes are a major determinant of treatment options and disease outcomes but there is considerable uncertainty regarding the frequency of poor prognosis estrogen receptor (ER) negative subtypes in Africa. We systematically reviewed publications reporting on the frequency of breast cancer receptor-defined subtypes in indigenous populations in Africa.
Methods and Findings
Medline, Embase, and Global Health were searched for studies published between 1st January 1980 and 15th April 2014. Reported proportions of ER positive (ER+), progesterone receptor positive (PR+), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 positive (HER2+) disease were extracted and 95% CI calculated. Random effects meta-analyses were used to pool estimates. Fifty-four studies from North Africa (n = 12,284 women with breast cancer) and 26 from sub-Saharan Africa (n = 4,737) were eligible. There was marked between-study heterogeneity in the ER+ estimates in both regions (I2>90%), with the majority reporting proportions between 0.40 and 0.80 in North Africa and between 0.20 and 0.70 in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, large between-study heterogeneity was observed for PR+ and HER2+ estimates (I2>80%, in all instances). Meta-regression analyses showed that the proportion of ER+ disease was 10% (4%–17%) lower for studies based on archived tumor blocks rather than prospectively collected specimens, and 9% (2%–17%) lower for those with ≥40% versus those with <40% grade 3 tumors. For prospectively collected samples, the pooled proportions for ER+ and triple negative tumors were 0.59 (0.56–0.62) and 0.21 (0.17–0.25), respectively, regardless of region. Limitations of the study include the lack of standardized procedures across the various studies; the low methodological quality of many studies in terms of the representativeness of their case series and the quality of the procedures for collection, fixation, and receptor testing; and the possibility that women with breast cancer may have contributed to more than one study.
Conclusions
The published data from the more appropriate prospectively measured specimens are consistent with the majority of breast cancers in Africa being ER+. As no single subtype dominates in the continent availability of receptor testing should be a priority, especially for young women with early stage disease where appropriate receptor-specific treatment modalities offer the greatest potential for reducing years of life lost.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Breast cancer is the commonest female tumor in Africa and death rates from the disease in some African countries are among the highest in the world. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. When a breast lump is found (by mammography or manual examination), a few cells are collected from the lump (a biopsy) to look for abnormal cells and to test for the presence of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) on the cells. The hormones estrogen and progesterone promote the growth of normal breast cells and of ER+ and PR+ breast cancer cells. HER2 also controls the growth of breast cells. The receptor status of breast cancer is a major determinant of treatment options and prognosis (likely outcome). ER+ tumors, for example, are more receptive to hormonal therapy and have a better prognosis than ER− tumors, whereas HER2+ tumors, which make large amounts of HER2, are more aggressive than HER2− tumors. Breast cancer is treated by surgically removing the lump or the whole breast (mastectomy) if the tumor has already spread, before killing any remaining cancer cells with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In addition, ER+, PR+, and HER2+ tumors are treated with drugs that block these receptors (including tamoxifen and trastuzumab), thereby slowing breast cancer growth.
Why Was This Study Done?
ER+ tumors predominate in white women but the proportion of ER+ tumors among US-born black women is slightly lower. The frequency of different receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer in indigenous populations in Africa is currently unclear but policy makers need this information to help them decide whether routine receptor status testing should be introduced across Africa. Because receptor status is a major determination of treatment options and outcomes, it would be more important to introduce receptor testing if all subtypes are present in breast cancers in indigenous African women and if no one subtype dominates than if most breast cancers in these women are ER+. In this systematic review (a study that uses pre-defined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and meta-analysis (a statistical approach that combines the results of several studies), the researchers examine the distribution of receptor-defined breast cancer subtypes in indigenous populations in Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 54 relevant studies from North Africa involving 12,284 women with breast cancer (mainly living in Egypt or Tunisia) and 26 studies from sub-Saharan Africa involving 4,737 women with breast cancer (mainly living in Nigeria or South Africa) and used the data from these studies to calculate the proportions of ER+, PR+, and HER2+ tumors (the number of receptor-positive tumors divided by the number of tumors with known receptor status) across Africa. The proportion of ER+ tumors varied markedly between studies, ranging between 0.40 and 0.80 in North Africa and between 0.20 and 0.70 in sub-Saharan Africa. Among prospectively collected samples (samples collected specifically for receptor-status testing; studies that determined the receptor status of breast cancers using stored samples reported a lower proportion of ER+ disease than studies that used prospectively collected samples), the overall pooled proportions of ER+ and triple negative tumors were 0.59 and 0.21, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings highlight the scarcity of data on hormone receptor and HER2 status in breast cancers in indigenous African populations, they provide new information about the distribution of breast cancer subtypes in Africa. Specifically, these findings suggest that although slightly more than half of breast cancers in Africa are ER+, no single subtype dominates. They also suggest that the distribution of receptor-defined breast cancer subtypes in Africa is similar to that found in Western populations. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by the low methodological quality of many of the studies and the lack of standardized procedures. Thus, large well-designed studies are still needed to accurately quantify the distribution of various breast cancer subtypes across Africa. In the meantime, the current findings support the introduction of routine receptor testing across Africa, especially for young women with early stage breast cancer in whom the potential to improve survival and reduce the years of life lost by knowing the receptor status of an individual's tumor is greatest.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001720.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Sulma i Mohammed
The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer including an online booklet for patients
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer; its detailed information about breast cancer includes sections on tests for hormone receptors and HER2 and on treatments that target hormone receptors and treatments that target HER2
Breastcancer.org is a not-for-profit organization that provides up-to-date information about breast cancer (in English and Spanish), including information on hormone receptor status and HER2 status
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001720
PMCID: PMC4159229  PMID: 25202974
8.  The Brazil SimSmoke Policy Simulation Model: The Effect of Strong Tobacco Control Policies on Smoking Prevalence and Smoking-Attributable Deaths in a Middle Income Nation 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(11):e1001336.
David Levy and colleagues use the SimSmoke model to estimate the effect of Brazil's recent stronger tobacco control policies on smoking prevalence and associated premature mortality, and the effect that additional policies may have.
Background
Brazil has reduced its smoking rate by about 50% in the last 20 y. During that time period, strong tobacco control policies were implemented. This paper estimates the effect of these stricter policies on smoking prevalence and associated premature mortality, and the effect that additional policies may have.
Methods and Findings
The model was developed using the SimSmoke tobacco control policy model. Using policy, population, and smoking data for Brazil, the model assesses the effect on premature deaths of cigarette taxes, smoke-free air laws, mass media campaigns, marketing restrictions, packaging requirements, cessation treatment programs, and youth access restrictions. We estimate the effect of past policies relative to a counterfactual of policies kept to 1989 levels, and the effect of stricter future policies. Male and female smoking prevalence in Brazil have fallen by about half since 1989, which represents a 46% (lower and upper bounds: 28%–66%) relative reduction compared to the 2010 prevalence under the counterfactual scenario of policies held to 1989 levels. Almost half of that 46% reduction is explained by price increases, 14% by smoke-free air laws, 14% by marketing restrictions, 8% by health warnings, 6% by mass media campaigns, and 10% by cessation treatment programs. As a result of the past policies, a total of almost 420,000 (260,000–715,000) deaths had been averted by 2010, increasing to almost 7 million (4.5 million–10.3 million) deaths projected by 2050. Comparing future implementation of a set of stricter policies to a scenario with 2010 policies held constant, smoking prevalence by 2050 could be reduced by another 39% (29%–54%), and 1.3 million (0.9 million–2.0 million) out of 9 million future premature deaths could be averted.
Conclusions
Brazil provides one of the outstanding public health success stories in reducing deaths due to smoking, and serves as a model for other low and middle income nations. However, a set of stricter policies could further reduce smoking and save many additional lives.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Tobacco kills up to half its users—more than 5 million smokers die every year from tobacco-related causes. It also kills more than half a million non-smokers annually who have been exposed to second-hand smoke. If current trends continue, annual tobacco-related deaths could increase to more than 8 million by 2030. In response to this global tobacco epidemic, the World Health Organization has developed an international instrument for tobacco control called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Since it came into force in February 2005, 176 countries have become parties to the FCTC. As such, they agree to implement comprehensive bans on tobacco advertizing, promotion, and sponsorship; to ban misleading and deceptive terms on tobacco packaging; to protect people from exposure to cigarette smoke in public spaces and indoor workplaces; to implement tax policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption; and to combat illicit trade in tobacco products.
Why Was This Study Done?
Brazil has played a pioneering role in providing support for tobacco control measures in low and middle income countries. It introduced its first cigarette-specific tax in 1990 and, in 1996, it placed the first warnings on cigarette packages and introduced smoke-free air laws. Many of these measures have subsequently been strengthened. Over the same period, the prevalence of smoking among adults (the proportion of the population that smokes) has halved in Brazil, falling from 34.8% in 1989 to 18.5% in 2008. But did the introduction of tobacco control policies contribute to this decline, and if so, which were the most effective policies? In this study, the researchers use a computational model called the SimSmoke tobacco control policy model to investigate this question and to examine the possible effect of introducing additional control policies consistent with the FCTC, which Brazil has been a party to since 2006.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed Brazil SimSmoke by incorporating policy, population, and smoking data for Brazil into the SimSmoke simulation model; Brazil SimSmoke estimates smoking prevalence and smoking-attributable deaths from 1989 forwards. They then compared smoking prevalences and smoking-attributable deaths estimated by Brazil SimSmoke for 2010 with and without the inclusion of the tobacco control policies that were introduced between 1989 and 2010. The model estimated that the smoking prevalence in Brazil in 2010 was reduced by 46% by the introduction of tobacco control measures. Almost half of this reduction was explained by price increases, 14% by smoke-free laws, 14% by marketing restrictions, 8% by health warnings, 6% by anti-smoking media campaigns, and 10% by cessation treatment programs. Moreover, as a result of past policies, the model estimated that almost 420,000 tobacco-related deaths had been averted by 2010 and that almost 7 million deaths will have been averted by 2050. Finally, using the model to compare the effects of a scenario that includes stricter policies (for example, an increase in tobacco tax) with a scenario that includes the 2010 policies only, indicated that stricter control policies would reduce the estimated smoking prevalence by an extra 39% between 2010 and 2050 and avert about 1.3 million additional premature deaths.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the introduction of tobacco control policies has been a critical factor in the rapid decline in smoking prevalence in Brazil over the past 20 years. They also suggest that the introduction of stricter policies that are fully consistent with the FCTC has the potential to reduce the prevalence of smoking further and save many additional lives. Although the reduction in smoking prevalence in Brazil between 1989 and 2010 predicted by the Brazil SimSmoke model is close to the recorded reduction over that period, these findings need to be interpreted with caution because of the many assumptions incorporated in the model. Moreover, the accuracy of the model's predictions depends on the accuracy of the data fed into it, some of which was obtained from other countries and may not accurately reflect the situation in Brazil. Importantly, however, these findings show that, even for a middle income nation, reducing tobacco use is a “winnable battle” that carries huge dividends in terms of reducing illness and death without requiring unlimited resources.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001336.
The World Health Organization provides information about the dangers of tobacco (in several languages), about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and about tobacco control in Brazil
The Framework Convention Alliance provides more information about the FCTC
The Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA) provides information on tobacco control policies in Brazil; additional information about tobacco control laws in Brazil is available on the Tobacco Control Laws interactive website, which provides information about tobacco control legislation worldwide
More information on the SimSmoke model of tobacco control policies is available in document or slideshow form
SmokeFree, a website provided by the UK National Health Service, offers advice on quitting smoking and includes personal stories from people who have stopped smoking
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001336
PMCID: PMC3491001  PMID: 23139643
9.  Association between Melanocytic Nevi and Risk of Breast Diseases: The French E3N Prospective Cohort 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(6):e1001660.
Using data from the French E3N prospective cohort, Marina Kvaskoff and colleagues examine the association between number of cutaneous nevi and the risk for breast cancer.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
While melanocytic nevi have been associated with genetic factors and childhood sun exposure, several observations also suggest a potential hormonal influence on nevi. To test the hypothesis that nevi are associated with breast tumor risk, we explored the relationships between number of nevi and benign and malignant breast disease risk.
Methods and Findings
We prospectively analyzed data from E3N, a cohort of French women aged 40–65 y at inclusion in 1990. Number of nevi was collected at inclusion. Hazard ratios (HRs) for breast cancer and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated using Cox proportional hazards regression models. Associations of number of nevi with personal history of benign breast disease (BBD) and family history of breast cancer were estimated using logistic regression. Over the period 15 June 1990–15 June 2008, 5,956 incident breast cancer cases (including 5,245 invasive tumors) were ascertained among 89,902 women. In models adjusted for age, education, and known breast cancer risk factors, women with “very many” nevi had a significantly higher breast cancer risk (HR = 1.13, 95% CI = 1.01–1.27 versus “none”; ptrend = 0.04), although significance was lost after adjustment for personal history of BBD or family history of breast cancer. The 10-y absolute risk of invasive breast cancer increased from 3,749 per 100,000 women without nevi to 4,124 (95% CI = 3,674–4,649) per 100,000 women with “very many” nevi. The association was restricted to premenopausal women (HR = 1.40, ptrend = 0.01), even after full adjustment (HR = 1.34, ptrend = 0.03; phomogeneity = 0.04), but did not differ according to breast cancer type or hormone receptor status. In addition, we observed significantly positive dose–response relationships between number of nevi and history of biopsy-confirmed BBD (n = 5,169; ptrend<0.0001) and family history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives (n = 7,472; ptrend = 0.0003). The main limitations of our study include self-report of number of nevi using a qualitative scale, and self-reported history of biopsied BBD.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest associations between number of nevi and the risk of premenopausal breast cancer, BBD, and family history of breast cancer. More research is warranted to elucidate these relationships and to understand their underlying mechanisms.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2012, nearly 1.7 million women worldwide discovered they had breast cancer, and about half a million women died from the disease. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). Uncontrolled cell division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump, or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Because the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of some tumors, drugs that block hormone receptors are also used to treat receptor-positive breast cancer. Nowadays, the prognosis (outlook) for women with breast cancer is good, and in developed countries, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several hormone-related factors affect a woman's chances of developing breast cancer. For example, women who have no children or who have them late in life have a higher breast cancer risk than women who have several children when they are young because pregnancy alters sex hormone levels. Interestingly, the development of moles (nevi)—dark skin blemishes that are risk factors for the development of melanoma, a type of skin cancer—may also be affected by estrogen and progesterone. Thus, the number of nevi might be a marker of blood hormone levels and might predict breast cancer risk. In this prospective cohort study, the researchers test this hypothesis by investigating the association between how many moles a woman has and her breast cancer risk. A prospective cohort study enrolls a group (cohort) of people, determines their baseline characteristics, and follows them over time to see which characteristics are associated with the development of specific diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 1990, the E3N prospective cohort study enrolled nearly 100,000 French women (mainly school teachers) aged 40–65 years to investigate cancer risk factors. The women completed a baseline questionnaire about their lifestyle and medical history, and regular follow-up questionnaires that asked about cancer occurrence. In the initial questionnaire, the women indicated whether they had no, a few, many, or very many moles. Between 1990 and 2008, nearly 6,000 women in the cohort developed breast cancer. Using statistical methods to calculate hazard ratios (an “HR” compares how often a particular event happens in two groups with different characteristics; an HR greater than one indicates that a specific characteristic is associated with an increased risk of the event), the researchers report that women with “very many” nevi had a significantly higher breast cancer risk (a higher risk that was unlikely to have occurred by chance) than women with no nevi. Specifically, the age-adjusted HR for breast cancer among women with “very many” nevi compared to women with no nevi was 1.17. After adjustment for a personal history of benign (noncancerous) breast disease and a family history of breast cancer (two established risk factors for breast cancer), the association between nevi and breast cancer risk among the whole cohort became nonsignificant. Notably, however, the association among only premenopausal women remained significant after full adjustment (HR = 1.34), which corresponded to an increase in ten-year absolute risk of invasive breast cancer from 2,515 per 100,000 women with no nevi to 3,370 per 100,000 women with “very many” nevi.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that among premenopausal women there is a modest association between nevi number and breast cancer risk. This noncausal relationship may indicate that nevi and breast diseases are affected in similar ways by hormones or share common genetic factors, but the accuracy of these findings may be limited by aspects of the study design. For example, self-report of nevi numbers using a qualitative scale may have introduced some inaccuracies into the estimates of the association between nevi number and breast cancer risk. Most importantly, these findings are insufficient to support the use of nevi counts in breast cancer screening or diagnosis. Rather, together with the findings reported by Zhang et al. in an independent PLOS Medicine Research Article, they suggest that further studies into the biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between nevi and breast cancer and the association itself should be undertaken.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001660.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Fuhrman and Cardenas
An independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Zhang et al. also investigates the relationship between nevi number and breast cancer risk
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer; it also has a fact sheet on moles
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
More information about the E3N prospective cohort study is available; detailed information is available in French
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001660
PMCID: PMC4051602  PMID: 24915306
10.  Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision: A Framework Analysis of Policy and Program Implementation in Eastern and Southern Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001133.
Kim Dickson and colleagues analyze the progress made by 13 priority countries toward scale-up of medical male circumcision programs, finding that the most successful programs involve country ownership of the program and have sustained leadership at all levels.
Background
Following confirmation of the effectiveness of voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) for HIV prevention, the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS issued recommendations in 2007. Less than 5 y later, priority countries are at different stages of program scale-up. This paper analyzes the progress towards the scale-up of VMMC programs. It analyzes the adoption of VMMC as an additional HIV prevention strategy and explores the factors may have expedited or hindered the adoption of policies and initial program implementation in priority countries to date.
Methods and Findings
VMMCs performed in priority countries between 2008 and 2010 were recorded and used to classify countries into five adopter categories according to the Diffusion of Innovations framework. The main predictors of VMMC program adoption were determined and factors influencing subsequent scale-up explored. By the end of 2010, over 550,000 VMMCs had been performed, representing approximately 3% of the target coverage level in priority countries. The “early adopter” countries developed national VMMC policies and initiated VMMC program implementation soon after the release of the WHO recommendations. However, based on modeling using the Decision Makers' Program Planning Tool (DMPPT), only Kenya appears to be on track towards achievement of the DMPPT-estimated 80% coverage goal by 2015, having already achieved 61.5% of the DMPPT target. None of the other countries appear to be on track to achieve their targets. Potential predicators of early adoption of male circumcision programs include having a VMMC focal person, establishing a national policy, having an operational strategy, and the establishment of a pilot program.
Conclusions
Early adoption of VMMC policies did not necessarily result in rapid program scale-up. A key lesson is the importance of not only being ready to adopt a new intervention but also ensuring that factors critical to supporting and accelerating scale-up are incorporated into the program. The most successful program had country ownership and sustained leadership to translate research into a national policy and program.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than 2.5 million people (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa) become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS and no HIV vaccine. Consequently, global efforts to combat HIV/AIDS are concentrating on evidence-based prevention strategies such as voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). Circumcision—the removal of the foreskin, a loose fold of skin that covers the head of the penis—reduced HIV transmission through sexual intercourse by 60% in men in trials undertaken in sub-Saharan Africa, so in 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recommended implementation of VMMC programs in countries with a generalized HIV epidemic and low levels of male circumcision. They also identified 13 countries in southern and eastern Africa as high priority countries for rapid VMMC scale-up. Mathematical modeling suggests that 20.3 million circumcisions by 2015 and 8.4 million circumcisions between 2016 and 2025 are needed to reach 80% VMMC coverage in these countries. If this coverage is achieved, it will avert about 3.4 million new HIV infections through 2025.
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite convincing evidence that VMMC is an effective, cost-saving intervention in the fight against HIV/AIDS, national VMMC scale-up programs in the priority countries are currently at very different stages. A better understanding of the challenges faced by these programs would help countries still in the early stages of VMMC scale-up implement their national programs and would facilitate implementation of other HIV prevention strategies. In this study, the researchers use the Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) theory to analyze progress towards VMMC scale-up in the priority countries and to identify the factors that may have expedited or hindered program scale-up. This theory seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. It posits that a few individuals (“innovators”) adopt new ideas before they become mainstream ideas. A few more individuals—the “early adopters”—follow the innovators. The “early majority” is the next group to adopt the innovation, followed by the “late majority” and the “laggards.”
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the annual number of VMMCs performed in the priority countries since 2008 to classify the countries into DOI adopter categories. They calculated a total scale-up score for each country based on six key elements of program scale-up (such as whether and when a VMMC policy had been approved). Finally, they analyzed the association between the DOI adopter category and the scores for the individual scale-up elements to determine which elements predict adoption and VMMC scale-up. By the end of 2010, about 560,000 VMMCs had been completed, less than 3% of the target coverage for the priority countries. Kenya, the only DOI innovator country, had completed nearly two-thirds of the VMMCs needed to reach its target coverage and was the only country on track to reach its target. The early adopters (South Africa, Zambia, and Swaziland) had initiated VMMC program scale-up soon after the release of the 2007 recommendations and had started VMMC scale-up pilot programs in 2008 but were far from achieving their VMMC targets. Having a VMMC focal person, establishing a national policy, having an operational strategy, and establishing a pilot program all predicted early adoption of VMMC scale-up.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, three years after the WHO/UNAIDS recommendation to integrate VMMC into comprehensive HIV prevention programs, VMMC scale-up activities had been initiated in all the priority countries but that progress towards the 80% coverage target was variable and generally poor. Importantly, they show that early adoption of VMMC as a national program had not necessarily resulted in rapid program scale-up. Although these findings may not be generalizable to other settings, they suggest that countries endeavoring to scale up VMMC (or other HIV prevention strategies) must not only be ready to adopt VMMC but must also ensure that all the factors critical to supporting and accelerating scale-up are incorporated into the scale-up program. Finally, these findings show that the most successful national programs are those that involve country ownership of the program and that have sustained leadership at all levels to facilitate the translation of research into national policies and programs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001133.
This study is part of a PLoS Collection of articles on VMMC (http://www.ploscollections.org/VMMC2011) and is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Review Article by Hankins et al. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001127)
Information is available from WHO, UNAIDS, and PEPFAR on all aspects of HIV/AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment, and information on male circumcision for the prevention of HIV transmission
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on aspects of HIV prevention, and on HIV/AIDS in Africa (in English and Spanish)
The Clearinghouse on Male Circumcision, a resource provided by WHO, UNAIDS, and other international bodies, provides information and tools for VMMC policy development and program implementation
Wikipedia has a page on Diffusion of Innovations theory (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, through NAM/aidsmap, and through the charity website Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001133
PMCID: PMC3226465  PMID: 22140368
11.  The Effect of Dosing Regimens on the Antimalarial Efficacy of Dihydroartemisinin-Piperaquine: A Pooled Analysis of Individual Patient Data 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001564.
Ric Price and colleagues pool individual patient data from efficacy trials of dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine shared with WWARN (Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network) to examine the potential for underdosing in young children.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DP) is increasingly recommended for antimalarial treatment in many endemic countries; however, concerns have been raised over its potential under dosing in young children. We investigated the influence of different dosing schedules on DP's clinical efficacy.
Methods and Findings
A systematic search of the literature was conducted to identify all studies published between 1960 and February 2013, in which patients were enrolled and treated with DP. Principal investigators were approached and invited to share individual patient data with the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN). Data were pooled using a standardised methodology. Univariable and multivariable risk factors for parasite recrudescence were identified using a Cox's regression model with shared frailty across the study sites. Twenty-four published and two unpublished studies (n = 7,072 patients) were included in the analysis. After correcting for reinfection by parasite genotyping, Kaplan–Meier survival estimates were 97.7% (95% CI 97.3%–98.1%) at day 42 and 97.2% (95% CI 96.7%–97.7%) at day 63. Overall 28.6% (979/3,429) of children aged 1 to 5 years received a total dose of piperaquine below 48 mg/kg (the lower limit recommended by WHO); this risk was 2.3–2.9-fold greater compared to that in the other age groups and was associated with reduced efficacy at day 63 (94.4% [95% CI 92.6%–96.2%], p<0.001). After adjusting for confounding factors, the mg/kg dose of piperaquine was found to be a significant predictor for recrudescence, the risk increasing by 13% (95% CI 5.0%–21%) for every 5 mg/kg decrease in dose; p = 0.002. In a multivariable model increasing the target minimum total dose of piperaquine in children aged 1 to 5 years old from 48 mg/kg to 59 mg/kg would halve the risk of treatment failure and cure at least 95% of patients; such an increment was not associated with gastrointestinal toxicity in the ten studies in which this could be assessed.
Conclusions
DP demonstrates excellent efficacy in a wide range of transmission settings; however, treatment failure is associated with a lower dose of piperaquine, particularly in young children, suggesting potential for further dose optimisation.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Half of the world's population is at risk of malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease that kills a million people (mainly young children in sub-Saharan Africa) every year. During the second half of the 20th century, the main treatments for malaria were “monotherapies” such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. Unfortunately, parasitic resistance to these drugs rapidly spread and, in the 1990s, there was an upsurge in the illness and death caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for most malarial deaths. To combat this increase, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) for first-line treatment of P. falciparum malaria wherever malaria is endemic (always present). In ACT, artemisinin derivatives (antimalarial drugs that rapidly reduce the parasitic load in the patient and that are rapidly cleared from the body) are used in combination with a slower acting, more slowly eliminated partner drug that prevents recrudescent infections (re-emergences of the original infection).
Why Was This Study Done?
ACT reduces the chances of P. falciparum becoming resistant to either the artemisinin derivative or the partner drug, but sub-optimal dosing can result in incomplete elimination of the initial parasitic infection and/or recrudescence. Both these situations drive the selection of parasites with reduced drug susceptibility. Unfortunately, current dosing strategies are usually based on weight or age bands that were determined during early drug development. Inevitably, some patients at the margins of these bands receive inappropriate doses—either too high or too low. Moreover, the doses recommended for children are extrapolated from adult doses and may not be optimal because children are not merely small adults—their drug responses often differ from those of adults. Here, researchers from the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN) investigate the influence of different dosing schedules on the clinical efficacy of dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DP, an ACT first recommended by WHO for the treatment of uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria in 2010) by undertaking a pooled analysis of individual patient data collected during ACT clinical studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified all the studies published between 1960 and February 2013 in which patients were treated with DP and obtained individual patient data for almost 70% of study participants (more than 7,000 patients living in Asia, Africa, and South America) from the principal investigators. These data were pooled and statistical models were used to identify risk factors for parasite recrudescence (parasite genotyping was used to correct for re-infection with a new parasite). Overall, DP treatment was successful (judged by parasitological clearance) in 97.7% and 97.2% of patients at day 42 and 63, respectively, after treatment. However, 28.6% of children aged 1–5 years received a total dose of piperaquine over the 3-day DP dosing schedule of below 48 mg/kg body weight (the lower limit of dosing recommended by WHO). Children aged 1–5 years had a 2.9-fold higher risk of receiving a dose of piperaquine below 48 mg/kg than children aged 5–12 years. Moreover, the piperaquine dose was a significant predictor of recrudescence. For every 5 mg/kg decrease in dose, the risk of recrudescence increased by 13%. Finally, the researchers estimated that increasing the target dose of piperaquine in children aged 1–5 years to 59 mg/kg would halve the risk of treatment failure and cure at least 95% of young children.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that DP treatment of malaria has a good efficacy in a wide range of settings but indicate that young children are at a higher risk of treatment failure than the overall population and that treatment failure, particularly in young children, is associated with a lower dose of piperaquine. Although the accuracy of these findings may be limited by some aspects of this study (for example, drug doses could only be calculated from the actual tablets taken in a quarter of the patients; in the remainder, they were extrapolated from the relevant study protocol), they nevertheless suggest that further detailed dose optimization studies in young children are essential to prolong the useful therapeutic life of DP. Moreover, if global elimination of malaria is to be achieved, similar pooled analyses to assess the efficacy of other drug combinations should be undertaken to ensure that ACT remains therapeutically useful for as long as possible.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001564.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Paul Garner
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages); the 2012 World Malaria Report provides details of the current global malaria situation; the 2010 WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria are available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria (in English and Spanish), including a selection of personal stories about malaria
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the global control of malaria including fact sheets about ACT
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
Information on the WorldWide Antimalarial Resistance Network is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001564
PMCID: PMC3848996  PMID: 24311989
12.  How do the media report cancer research? A study of the UK's BBC website 
British Journal of Cancer  2008;99(4):569-576.
This study examined cancer research stories on the BBC web archive (July 1998–June 2006). There were about 260 BBC stories per year, of which about 170 were classed as relevant to reports of cancer research. The stories focused heavily on breast cancer, and over one-third of them mentioned this (compared with a cancer disease burden of 13%); the next most covered sites were lung and prostate cancers, although the former was much less mentioned than its cancer disease burden of almost 20% would have suggested. The focus of the stories was often on new or improved drugs or vaccines (20% of stories), with lifestyle choices (12%), genetic developments (9%), and food and drink (8%) also featuring fairly prominently. The BBC stories cited about 1380 research papers that could be identified as journal articles. About three-quarters of the cited papers were in the field of cancer. The papers of these authors came from over 60 countries, and 40% were from the United Kingdom and 36% from the United States. UK cancer research was heavily overcited, by about 6:1, relative to its presence in world oncology research and US research was cited about in proportion. That of most other countries, especially Japan, Germany, and Austria, was relatively undercited. These cited papers also acknowledged more funding bodies. Most of the BBC stories were put in context by external commentators, of whom the large majority was from the UK's cancer research charities.
doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6604531
PMCID: PMC2527836  PMID: 18665166
13.  Tamoxifen as the First Targeted Long Term Adjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer 
Endocrine-related cancer  2014;21(3):R235-R246.
Tamoxifen is an unlikely pioneering medicine in medical oncology. Nevertheless, the medicine has continued to surprise us, perform and save lives for the past 40 years. Unlike any other medicine in oncology, it is used to treat all stages of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, male breast cancer, pioneered the use of chemoprevention by reducing the incidence of breast cancer in women at high risk and induces ovulation in subfertile women! The impact of tamoxifen is ubiquitous. However, the power to save lives from this unlikely success story came from the first laboratory studies which defined that “longer was going to be better” when tamoxifen was being considered as an adjuvant therapy (Jordan 1978 Use of the DMBA-induced rat mammary carcinoma system for the evaluation of tamoxifen as a potential adjuvant therapy Reviews in Endocrine Related Cancer. October Supplement: 49–55.). This is that success story, with a focus on the interdependent components of: excellence in drug discovery, investment in self-selecting young investigators, a conversation with Nature, a conversation between the laboratory and the clinic, and the creation of the Oxford Overview Analysis. Each of these factors was essential to propel the progress of tamoxifen to evolve as an essential part of the fabric of society. “Science is adventure, discovery, new horizons, insight into our world, a means of predicting the future and enormous power to help others”(Hoagland 1990).- Mahlon Hoagland, MD. Director, Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology (1970–85)
doi:10.1530/ERC-14-0092
PMCID: PMC4029058  PMID: 24659478
14.  Bypassing Bypass Surgery and Other Success Stories from the National Institutes of Health 
After a heart attack, patients often undergo a procedure to open up the clogged artery and install a tiny meshlike device called a stent to keep the artery propped open. In most cases, the body reacts to this foreign object with scar-tissue formation, and the artery narrows again. To combat this re-clogging process, National Institutes of Health inventors developed paclitaxel-coated stents and later licensed it to Angiotech. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in March 2004, these stents are expected to substantially reduce the use of coronary artery bypass surgery, an expensive operation now performed annually on 350,000-plus Americans. This and three other examples of NIH licensing success stories are described in this paper: (a) Kepivance, which improves the quality of life for cancer patients by eliminating mouth sores, (b) AIDS drug ddI, an important component of many combination drug therapies, and (c) Vitravene, the first and only antisense drug to be approved by FDA. These four examples will illustrate the success not only of the NIH licensing program, but also the innovative approaches taken by NIH inventors and the persistence of its commercial partners. This paper also highlights the business and legal lessons learned from these four cases.
PMCID: PMC3668448  PMID: 23730679
15.  The BARD1 Cys557Ser Variant and Breast Cancer Risk in Iceland 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e217.
Background
Most, if not all, of the cellular functions of the BRCA1 protein are mediated through heterodimeric complexes composed of BRCA1 and a related protein, BARD1. Some breast-cancer-associated BRCA1 missense mutations disrupt the function of the BRCA1/BARD1 complex. It is therefore pertinent to determine whether variants of BARD1 confer susceptibility to breast cancer. Recently, a missense BARD1 variant, Cys557Ser, was reported to be at increased frequencies in breast cancer families. We investigated the role of the BARD1 Cys557Ser variant in a population-based cohort of 1,090 Icelandic patients with invasive breast cancer and 703 controls. We then used a computerized genealogy of the Icelandic population to study the relationships between the Cys557Ser variant and familial clustering of breast cancer.
Methods and Findings
The Cys557Ser allele was present at a frequency of 0.028 in patients with invasive breast cancer and 0.016 in controls (odds ratio [OR] = 1.82, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.11–3.01, p = 0.014). The alleleic frequency was 0.037 in a high-predisposition group of cases defined by having a family history of breast cancer, early onset of breast cancer, or multiple primary breast cancers (OR = 2.41, 95% CI 1.22–4.75, p = 0.015). Carriers of the common Icelandic BRCA2 999del5 mutation were found to have their risk of breast cancer further increased if they also carried the BARD1 variant: the frequency of the BARD1 variant allele was 0.047 (OR = 3.11, 95% CI 1.16–8.40, p = 0.046) in 999del5 carriers with breast cancer. This suggests that the lifetime probability of a BARD1 Cys557Ser/BRCA2 999del5 double carrier developing breast cancer could approach certainty. Cys557Ser carriers, with or without the BRCA2 mutation, had an increased risk of subsequent primary breast tumors after the first breast cancer diagnosis compared to non-carriers. Lobular and medullary breast carcinomas were overrepresented amongst Cys557Ser carriers. We found that an excess of ancestors of contemporary carriers lived in a single county in the southeast of Iceland and that all carriers shared a SNP haplotype, which is suggestive of a founder event. Cys557Ser was found on the same SNP haplotype background in the HapMap Project CEPH sample of Utah residents.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that BARD1 Cys557Ser is an ancient variant that confers risk of single and multiple primary breast cancers, and this risk extends to carriers of the BRCA2 999del5 mutation.
Editors' Summary
Background.
About 13% of women (one in eight women) will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, but many factors affect the likelihood of any individual woman developing this disease, for example, whether she has had children and at what age, when she started and stopped her periods, and her exposure to certain chemicals or radiation. She may also have inherited a defective gene that affects her risk of developing breast cancer. Some 5%–10% of all breast cancers are familial, or inherited. In 20% of these cases, the gene that is defective is BRCA1 or BRCA2. Inheriting a defective copy of one of these genes greatly increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, while researchers think that the other inherited genes that predispose to breast cancer—most of which have not been identified yet—have a much weaker effect. These are described as low-penetrance genes. Inheriting one such gene only slightly increases breast cancer risk; a woman has to inherit several to increase her lifetime risk of cancer significantly.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is important to identify these additional predisposing gene variants because they might provide insights into why breast cancer develops, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. To find low-penetrance genes, researchers do case–control association studies. They find a large group of women with breast cancer (cases) and a similar group of women without cancer (controls), and examine how often a specific gene variant occurs in the two groups. If the variant is found more often in the cases than in the controls, it might be a variant that increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers involved in this study recruited Icelandic women who had had breast cancer and unaffected women, and looked for a specific variant—the Cys557Ser allele—of a gene called BARD1. They chose BARD1 because the protein it encodes interacts with the protein encoded by BRCA1. Because defects in BRCA1 increase the risk of breast cancer, defects in an interacting protein might have a similar effect. In addition, the Cys557Ser allele has been implicated in breast cancer in other studies. The researchers found that the Cys557Ser allele was nearly twice as common in women with breast cancer as in control women. It was also more common (but not by much) in women who had a family history of breast cancer or who had developed breast cancer more than once. And having the Cys557Ser allele seemed to increase the already high risk of breast cancer in women who had a BRCA2 variant (known as BRCA2 999del5) that accounts for 40% of inherited breast cancer risk in Iceland.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that inheriting the BARD1 Cys557Ser allele increases a woman's breast cancer risk but that she is unlikely to have a family history of the disease. Because carrying the Cys557Ser allele only slightly increases a woman's risk of breast cancer, for most women there is no clinical reason to test for this variant. Eventually, when all the low-penetrance genes that contribute to breast cancer risk have been identified, it might be helpful to screen women for the full set to determine whether they are at high risk of developing breast cancer. This will not happen for many years, however, since there might be tens or hundreds of these genes. For women who carry BRCA2 999del5, the situation might be different. It might be worth testing these women for the BARD1 Cys557Ser allele, the researchers explain, because the lifetime probability of developing breast cancer in women carrying both variants might approach 100%. This finding has clinical implications in terms of counseling and monitoring, as does the observation that Cys557Ser carriers have an increased risk of a second, independent breast cancer compared to non-carriers. However, all these findings need to be confirmed in other groups of patients before anyone is routinely tested for the BARD1 Cys557Ser allele.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030217.
• MedlinePlus pages about breast cancer
• Information on breast cancer from the United States National Cancer Institute
• Information on inherited breast cancer from the United States National Human Genome Research Institute
• United States National Cancer Institute information on genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants
• GeneTests pages on the involvement of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer
• Cancer Research UK's page on breast cancer statistics
In a population-based cohort of 1090 Icelandic patients, a Cys557Ser missense variant of the BARD1 gene, which interacts with BRCA1, increased the risk of single and multiple primary breast cancers.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030217
PMCID: PMC1479388  PMID: 16768547
16.  An evaluation of the integration of non-traditional learning tools into a community based breast and cervical cancer education program: The witness project of Buffalo 
BMC Cancer  2003;3:18.
Background
Breast and cervical cancer continue to represent major health challenges for African American women. among Caucasian women. The underlying reasons for this disparity are multifactorial and include lack of education and awareness of screening and early detection. Traditional educational methods have enjoyed varied success in the African American community and spawned development of novel educational approaches. Community based education programs employing a variety of educational models have been introduced. Successful programs must train and provide lay community members with the tools necessary to deliver strong educational programs.
Methods
The Witness Project is a theory-based, breast and cervical cancer educational program, delivered by African American women, that stresses the importance of early detection and screening to improve survival and teaches women how to perform breast self examination. Implementing this program in the Buffalo Witness Project of Buffalo required several modifications in the curriculum, integration of non-traditional learning tools and focused training in clinical study participation. The educational approaches utilized included repetition, modeling, building comprehension, reinforcement, hands on learning, a social story on breast health for African American women, and role play conversations about breast and cervical health and support.
Results
Incorporating non-traditional educational approaches into the Witness Project training resulted in a 79% improvement in the number of women who mastered the didactic information. A seventy-two percent study participation rate was achieved by educating the community organizations that hosted Witness Project programs about the informed consent process and study participation.
Conclusion
Incorporating non-traditional educational approaches into community outreach programs increases training success as well as community participation.
doi:10.1186/1471-2407-3-18
PMCID: PMC165423  PMID: 12775219
17.  Injectable and Oral Contraceptive Use and Cancers of the Breast, Cervix, Ovary, and Endometrium in Black South African Women: Case–Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001182.
A case-control study conducted in South Africa provides new estimates of the risk of specific cancers of the female reproductive system associated with use of injectable and oral contraceptives.
Background
Oral contraceptives are known to influence the risk of cancers of the female reproductive system. Evidence regarding the relationship between injectable contraceptives and these cancers is limited, especially in black South Africans, among whom injectable contraceptives are used more commonly than oral contraceptives.
Methods and Findings
We analysed data from a South African hospital-based case–control study of black females aged 18–79 y, comparing self-reported contraceptive use in patients with breast (n = 1,664), cervical (n = 2,182), ovarian (n = 182), and endometrial (n = 182) cancer, with self-reported contraceptive use in 1,492 control patients diagnosed with cancers with no known relationship to hormonal contraceptive use. We adjusted for potential confounding factors, including age, calendar year of diagnosis, education, smoking, alcohol, parity/age at first birth, and number of sexual partners. Among controls, 26% had used injectable and 20% had used oral contraceptives. For current and more recent users versus never users of oral or injectable contraceptives, the odds ratios (ORs) for breast cancer were significantly increased in users of oral and/or injectable contraceptives (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.28–2.16, p<0.001) and separately among those exclusively using oral (1.57, 1.03–2.40, p = 0.04) and exclusively using injectable (OR 1.83, 1.31–2.55, p<0.001) contraceptives; corresponding ORs for cervical cancer were 1.38 (1.08–1.77, p = 0.01), 1.01 (0.66–1.56, p = 0.96), and 1.58 (1.16–2.15, p = 0.004). There was no significant increase in breast or cervical cancer risk among women ceasing hormonal contraceptive use ≥10 y previously (p = 0.3 and p = 0.9, respectively). For durations of use ≥5 y versus never use, the ORs of ovarian cancer were 0.60 (0.36–0.99, p = 0.04) for oral and/or injectable contraceptive use and 0.07 (0.01–0.49, p = 0.008) for injectable use exclusively; corresponding ORs for endometrial cancer were 0.44 (0.22–0.86, p = 0.02) and 0.36 (0.11–1.26, p = 0.1).
Conclusions
In this study, use of oral and of injectable hormonal contraceptives was associated with a transiently increased risk of breast and cervical cancer and, for long durations of use, with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. The observed effects of injectable and of oral contraceptives on cancer risk in this study did not appear to differ substantially.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Hormonal contraceptives are among the most commonly used medications. Globally, more than 210 million women currently use either hormonal contraceptive pills or injectable contraceptives. Contraceptive pills usually contain manmade versions of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone (the combined oral contraceptive, or “pill”); most injectable hormonal contraceptives contain only manmade progesterone preparations. Hormonal contraceptives, which prevent pregnancy by disrupting the cyclical changes in estrogen and progesterone levels that prepare the body for pregnancy, have revolutionized birth control since they first became available in the early 1960s. However, it is now known that taking the pill also influences women's risk of developing cancers of the female reproductive system. Current and recent users have an increased risk of developing breast and cervical cancer (the cervix is the structure that connects the womb to the vagina) compared to never users, although this increased risk quickly disappears when women stop taking the pill. By contrast, women who have used the pill have a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer and cancer of the womb (endometrial cancer) compared to never users that increases with the duration of pill use and persists for many years after use ceases. These effects on reproductive system cancers are thought to occur because these cancers depend on naturally occurring sex hormones for their development and growth.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the evidence that the pill influences the risk of developing cancers of the female reproductive system is extensive, much less is known about how injectable hormonal contraceptives affect cancer risk. In this hospital-based case–control study (a study that compares the characteristics of people with and without a specific condition), the researchers investigate the relationship between the use of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives and cancers of the breast, cervix, ovary, and endometrium among black South African women. Injectable contraceptives have been used for longer in South Africa than elsewhere and are used more commonly than oral contraceptives among black South African women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
As part of the Johannesburg Cancer Case Control Study, which recruits black patients attending Johannesburg public referral hospitals for cancer treatment, the researchers compared hormonal contraceptive use in women with breast, cervical, ovarian, or endometrial cancer with contraceptive use in women diagnosed with other cancers such as lung, colon, and rectal cancers, which are not known to be influenced by hormonal contraceptives. Among the controls, a quarter had used injectable contraceptives and a fifth had used oral contraceptives. After adjusting for other factors that might influence cancer risk such as age, smoking, and number of sexual partners, the odds ratio (OR) of breast cancer among current and recent users of oral and/or injectable contraceptives compared to never users was 1.66. That is, the risk of developing breast cancer among current and recent users of hormonal contraceptives was 1.66 times that among never users. For women using oral contraceptives exclusively or injectable contraceptives exclusively, the ORs of breast cancer were 1.57 and 1.83, respectively. There were also increases in cervical cancer risk among current and recent users of hormonal contraceptives compared to never users, but no significant increase in breast or cervical cancer risk among women who had ceased hormonal contraceptive use more than ten years previously. Finally, the use of hormonal contraceptives for more than five years reduced the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, among black women in South Africa, the use of oral or injectable hormonal contraceptives is associated with a transiently increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, and that extended use of these contraceptives is associated with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. Moreover, they suggest that the effects of oral versus injectable contraceptives on cancer risk do not differ substantially, although for endometrial and ovarian cancer the small number of cases exposed to injectable contraceptives limits the accuracy of the risk estimates. Other limitations of this study include the possibility that the findings may be affected by uncontrolled confounding. That is, women who used hormonal contraceptives may have shared other unidentified characteristics that affected their cancer risk. Nevertheless, these findings provide new information about the effects of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives on cancer risk that should help women make informed decisions about their choice of contraceptive method.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001182.
The US National Cancer Institute provides information on breast cancer (including personal stories from breast cancer survivors), cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer for patients and health professionals, and a fact sheet on oral contraceptives and cancer risk (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information on breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer and information about the birth control pill and cancer risk
Eyes on the Prize, an online support group for women who have had cancers of the female reproductive system, has personal stories; further personal stories about breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer are provided by the charity Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001182
PMCID: PMC3295825  PMID: 22412354
18.  Are breast cancers driven by fusion genes? 
For many years, it was assumed that gene fusions were a type of mutation confined largely to leukemias and sarcomas. However, fusion genes are now known to be important in several epithelial cancers and a number have been described in breast cancers. In the December 2011 issue of Nature Medicine, Robinson and colleagues reported many more gene fusions -including the first recurrent fusion, SEC16A-NOTCH1 - in breast cancers. Several genes, including members of the MAST (microtubule-associated serine threonine) kinase and Notch gene families, are fused more than once. This finding supports an emerging story that most breast cancers express a number of fusion genes.
doi:10.1186/bcr3122
PMCID: PMC3446366  PMID: 22424054
19.  An Online Resource of Digital Stories About Cancer Genetics: Qualitative Study of Patient Preferences and Information Needs 
Background
The Cancer Genetics Service for Wales (CGSW) was established in 1998 as an all-Wales service for individuals with concerns about their family history of cancer. CGSW offers a range of services such as risk assessment, genetic counseling, and genetic testing. Individuals referred to cancer genetics services often have unmet information and support needs, and they value access to practical and experiential information from other patients and health professionals. As a result of the lifelong nature of genetic conditions, a fundamental challenge is to meet the ongoing needs of these patients by providing easily accessible and reliable information.
Objectives
Our aims were to explore how the long-term information and support needs of CGSW patients could be met and to assess whether an online bank of digital stories about cancer genetics would be acceptable to patients.
Methods
In 2009, CGSW organized patient panels across Wales. During these events, 169 patients were asked for their feedback about a potential online resource of digital stories from CGSW patients and staff. A total of 75 patients registered to take part in the project and 23 people from across Wales agreed to share their story. All participants took part in a follow-up interview.
Results
Patient preferences for an online collection of cancer genetics stories were collected at the patient panels. Key topics to be covered by the stories were identified, and this feedback informed the development of the website to ensure that patients’ needs would be met. The 23 patient storytellers were aged between 28 and 75 years, and 19 were female. The digital stories reflect patients’ experiences within CGSW and the implications of living with or at risk of cancer. Follow-up interviews with patient storytellers showed that they shared their experiences as a means of helping other patients and to increase understanding of the cancer genetics service. Digital stories were also collected from 12 members of staff working at CGSW. The digital stories provide reliable and easily accessible information about cancer genetics and are hosted on the StoryBank website (www.cancergeneticsstorybank.co.uk).
Conclusions
The Internet is one mechanism through which the long-term information and support needs of cancer genetics patients can be met. The StoryBank is one of the first places where patient and staff stories have been allied to every aspect of a patient pathway through a service and provides patients with an experiential perspective of the cancer genetics “journey.” The StoryBank was developed in direct response to patient feedback and is an innovative example of patient involvement in service development. The stories are a useful resource for newly referred patients, current patients, the general public, and health care professionals.
doi:10.2196/jmir.1735
PMCID: PMC3222166  PMID: 22057223
Consumer health information; familial cancer; Internet; narrative medicine; patient involvement.
20.  DEAR1 Is a Dominant Regulator of Acinar Morphogenesis and an Independent Predictor of Local Recurrence-Free Survival in Early-Onset Breast Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000068.
Ann Killary and colleagues describe a new gene that is genetically altered in breast tumors, and that may provide a new breast cancer prognostic marker.
Background
Breast cancer in young women tends to have a natural history of aggressive disease for which rates of recurrence are higher than in breast cancers detected later in life. Little is known about the genetic pathways that underlie early-onset breast cancer. Here we report the discovery of DEAR1 (ductal epithelium–associated RING Chromosome 1), a novel gene encoding a member of the TRIM (tripartite motif) subfamily of RING finger proteins, and provide evidence for its role as a dominant regulator of acinar morphogenesis in the mammary gland and as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival in early-onset breast cancer.
Methods and Findings
Suppression subtractive hybridization identified DEAR1 as a novel gene mapping to a region of high-frequency loss of heterozygosity (LOH) in a number of histologically diverse human cancers within Chromosome 1p35.1. In the breast epithelium, DEAR1 expression is limited to the ductal and glandular epithelium and is down-regulated in transition to ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early histologic stage in breast tumorigenesis. DEAR1 missense mutations and homozygous deletion (HD) were discovered in breast cancer cell lines and tumor samples. Introduction of the DEAR1 wild type and not the missense mutant alleles to complement a mutation in a breast cancer cell line, derived from a 36-year-old female with invasive breast cancer, initiated acinar morphogenesis in three-dimensional (3D) basement membrane culture and restored tissue architecture reminiscent of normal acinar structures in the mammary gland in vivo. Stable knockdown of DEAR1 in immortalized human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs) recapitulated the growth in 3D culture of breast cancer cell lines containing mutated DEAR1, in that shDEAR1 clones demonstrated disruption of tissue architecture, loss of apical basal polarity, diffuse apoptosis, and failure of lumen formation. Furthermore, immunohistochemical staining of a tissue microarray from a cohort of 123 young female breast cancer patients with a 20-year follow-up indicated that in early-onset breast cancer, DEAR1 expression serves as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival and correlates significantly with strong family history of breast cancer and the triple-negative phenotype (ER−, PR−, HER-2−) of breast cancers with poor prognosis.
Conclusions
Our data provide compelling evidence for the genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 in breast cancer, for the functional role of DEAR1 in the dominant regulation of acinar morphogenesis in 3D culture, and for the potential utility of an immunohistochemical assay for DEAR1 expression as an independent prognostic marker for stratification of early-onset disease.
Editors' Summary
Background
Each year, more than one million women discover that they have breast cancer. This type of cancer begins when cells in the breast that line the milk-producing glands or the tubes that take the milk to the nipples (glandular and ductal epithelial cells, respectively) acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). The uncontrolled division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These “adjuvant” therapies are designed to kill any remaining cancer cells but can make patients very ill. Generally speaking, the outlook for women with breast cancer is good. In the US, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although breast cancer is usually diagnosed in women in their 50s or 60s, some women develop breast cancer much earlier. In these women, the disease is often very aggressive. Compared to older women, young women with breast cancer have a lower overall survival rate and their cancer is more likely to recur locally or to metastasize. It would be useful to be able to recognize those younger women at the greatest risk of cancer recurrence so that they could be offered intensive surveillance and adjuvant therapy; those women at a lower risk could have gentler treatments. To achieve this type of “stratification,” the genetic changes that underlie breast cancer in young women need to be identified. In this study, the researchers discover a gene that is genetically altered (by mutations or deletion) in early-onset breast cancer and then investigate whether its expression can predict outcomes in women with this disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used “suppression subtractive hybridization” to identify a new gene in a region of human Chromosome 1 where loss of heterozygosity (LOH; a genetic alteration associated with cancer development) frequently occurs. They called the gene DEAR1 (ductal epithelium-associated RING Chromosome 1) to indicate that it is expressed in ductal and glandular epithelial cells and encodes a “RING finger” protein (specifically, a subtype called a TRIM protein; RING finger proteins such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been implicated in early cancer development and in a large fraction of inherited breast cancers). DEAR1 expression was reduced or lost in several ductal carcinomas in situ (a local abnormality that can develop into breast cancer) and advanced breast cancers, the researchers report. Furthermore, many breast tumors carried DEAR1 missense mutations (genetic changes that interfere with the normal function of the DEAR1 protein) or had lost both copies of DEAR1 (the human genome contains two copies of most genes). To determine the function of DEAR1, the researchers replaced a normal copy of DEAR1 into a breast cancer cell that had a mutation in DEAR1. They then examined the growth of these genetically manipulated cells in special three-dimensional cultures. The breast cancer cells without DEAR1 grew rapidly without an organized structure while the breast cancer cells containing the introduced copy of DEAR1 formed structures that resembled normal breast acini (sac-like structures that secrete milk). In normal human mammary epithelial cells, the researchers silenced DEAR1 expression and also showed that without DEAR1, the normal mammary cells lost their ability to form proper acini. Finally, the researchers report that DEAR1 expression (detected “immunohistochemically”) was frequently lost in women who had had early-onset breast cancer and that the loss of DEAR1 expression correlated with reduced local recurrence-free survival, a strong family history of breast cancer and with a breast cancer subtype that has a poor outcome.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 are common in breast cancer. Although laboratory experiments may not necessarily reflect what happens in people, the results from the three-dimensional culture of breast epithelial cells suggest that DEAR1 may regulate the normal acinar structure of the breast. Consequently, loss of DEAR1 expression could be an early event in breast cancer development. Most importantly, the correlation between DEAR1 expression and both local recurrence in early-onset breast cancer and a breast cancer subtype with a poor outcome suggests that it might be possible to use DEAR1 expression to identify women with early-onset breast cancer who have an increased risk of local recurrence so that they get the most appropriate treatment for their cancer.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000068.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Senthil Muthuswamy
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer, including information on genetic alterations in breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; MedlinePlus also provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
The UK charities Cancerbackup (now merged with MacMillan Cancer Support) and Cancer Research UK also provide detailed information about breast cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000068
PMCID: PMC2673042  PMID: 19536326
21.  Psychosocial Intervention for Rural Women with Breast Cancer 
OBJECTIVE
This study was initiated by breast cancer survivors living in a rural community in California. They formed a partnership with academic researchers to develop and evaluate a low-cost, community-based Workbook-Journal (WBJ) for improving psychosocial functioning in geographically and economically isolated women with primary breast cancer.
DESIGN
A randomized controlled trial was used to compare the WBJ intervention plus educational materials to educational materials alone (usual care).
SETTING
One rural cancer center and several private medical, surgical, and radiation oncology practices in 7 rural counties in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of California.
PARTICIPANTS
One hundred women with primary breast cancer who were either within 3 months of diagnosis or within 3 months of completing treatment.
INTERVENTION
A community-initiated, theoretically-based Workbook-Journal, designed by rural breast cancer survivors and providers as a support group alternative. It included compelling personal stories, local rural resources, coping strategies, and messages of hope.
RESULTS
Community recruiters enrolled 83% of the women referred to the study. Retention at 3-month follow-up was 98%. There were no main effects for the WBJ. However, 3 significant interactions suggested that women who were treated in rural practices reported decreased fighting spirit and increased emotional venting and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms if they did not receive the WBJ. Among women who receive the WBJ, 74% felt emotionally supported.
CONCLUSIONS
This community-based Workbook-Journal may be an effective psychosocial intervention for rural, isolated, and low-income women with breast cancer. Community involvement was essential to the success of this project.
doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.20316.x
PMCID: PMC1494883  PMID: 12848832
breast cancer; rural; psychosocial; traumatic stress; recruitment; underserved; coping
22.  Constructing narratives of heroism and villainy: case study of Myriad's BRACAnalysis® compared to Genentech's Herceptin® 
Genome Medicine  2013;5(1):8.
Background
The development of Herceptin® is welcomed as a major advance in breast cancer treatment, while Myriad's development of BRACAnalysis® is a widely used diagnostic. However useful and successful this product is, its presence in the public eye is tainted by predominantly negative press about gene patenting and business practices.
Discussion
While retrospection invites a sharp contrast between Genentech's triumphal narrative of scientific achievement and Myriad's public image as a controversial monopolist, a comparative history of these companies' products reveals two striking consistencies: patents and public discontent. Despite these similarities, time has reduced the narrative to that of hero versus villain: Genentech is lauded - at least for the final outcome of the Herceptin® story - as a corporate good citizen, Myriad as a ruthless mercenary. Since patents undergird both products yet the narratives are so different, the stories raise the question: why have patents taken the fall as the scapegoat in current biotechnology policy debate?
Summary
A widely publicized lawsuit and accompanying bad press have cast Myriad as a villain in the evolving narrative of biotechnology. While the lawsuit suggests that this villainy is attributable to Myriad's intellectual property, we suggest through a comparative case study that, at least in the Myriad case, it is not simply about the patents but also other business strategies the company chose to pursue. Patents were a necessary but not sufficient cause of controversy.
doi:10.1186/gm412
PMCID: PMC3707051  PMID: 23369278
23.  Feasibility, Yield, and Cost of Active Tuberculosis Case Finding Linked to a Mobile HIV Service in Cape Town, South Africa: A Cross-sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001281.
Katharina Kranzer and colleagues investigate the operational characteristics of an active tuberculosis case-finding service linked to a mobile HIV testing unit that operates in underserviced areas in Cape Town, South Africa.
Background
The World Health Organization is currently developing guidelines on screening for tuberculosis disease to inform national screening strategies. This process is complicated by significant gaps in knowledge regarding mass screening. This study aimed to assess feasibility, uptake, yield, treatment outcomes, and costs of adding an active tuberculosis case-finding program to an existing mobile HIV testing service.
Methods and Findings
The study was conducted at a mobile HIV testing service operating in deprived communities in Cape Town, South Africa. All HIV-negative individuals with symptoms suggestive of tuberculosis, and all HIV-positive individuals regardless of symptoms were eligible for participation and referred for sputum induction. Samples were examined by microscopy and culture. Active tuberculosis case finding was conducted on 181 days at 58 different sites. Of the 6,309 adults who accessed the mobile clinic, 1,385 were eligible and 1,130 (81.6%) were enrolled. The prevalence of smear-positive tuberculosis was 2.2% (95% CI 1.1–4.0), 3.3% (95% CI 1.4–6.4), and 0.4% (95% CI 1.4 015–6.4) in HIV-negative individuals, individuals newly diagnosed with HIV, and known HIV, respectively. The corresponding prevalence of culture-positive tuberculosis was 5.3% (95% CI 3.5–7.7), 7.4% (95% CI 4.5–11.5), 4.3% (95% CI 2.3–7.4), respectively. Of the 56 new tuberculosis cases detected, 42 started tuberculosis treatment and 34 (81.0%) completed treatment. The cost of the intervention was US$1,117 per tuberculosis case detected and US$2,458 per tuberculosis case cured. The generalisability of the study is limited to similar settings with comparable levels of deprivation and TB and HIV prevalence.
Conclusions
Mobile active tuberculosis case finding in deprived populations with a high burden of HIV and tuberculosis is feasible, has a high uptake, yield, and treatment success. Further work is now required to examine cost-effectiveness and affordability and whether and how the same results may be achieved at scale.
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2010, 8.8 million people developed active tuberculosis—a contagious bacterial infection—and 1.4 million people died from the disease. Most of these deaths were in low- and middle-income countries and a quarter were in HIV-positive individuals—people who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are particularly susceptible to tuberculosis because of their weakened immune system. Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is spread in airborne droplets when people with the disease cough or sneeze. Its characteristic symptoms are a persistent cough, unintentional weight loss, hemoptysis (coughing up blood from the lungs), fever, and night sweats. Diagnostic tests for tuberculosis include sputum smear microscopy (microscopic analysis of mucus brought up from the lungs by coughing) and culture (growth) of M. tuberculosis from sputum samples. Tuberculosis can be cured by taking several powerful antibiotics daily for at least 6 months.
Why Was This Study Done?
To improve tuberculosis control, active disease must be diagnosed quickly and treated immediately. Passive tuberculosis case finding, which relies on people seeking medical help because they feel unwell, delays the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis and increases M. tuberculosis transmission. By contrast, active tuberculosis case finding—where health workers seek out and diagnose individuals with TB who have not sought care on their own initiative—has the potential to reduce tuberculosis transmission by improving case detection. The World Health Organization (WHO), which already recommends active tuberculosis case finding in HIV-infected individuals as part of its HIV/TB “Three I's” strategy, is currently developing guidelines to inform the design of national tuberculosis screening strategies based on the local prevalence of HIV and TB and other context-specific factors that affect how many individuals need to be screened to identify each additional new tuberculosis case (the “yield” of active case finding). Large gaps in our knowledge about mass-screening strategies are complicating the development of these guidelines so, in this observational prospective study, the researchers assess the feasibility, uptake, yield, treatment outcomes, and costs of adding an active tuberculosis case-finding program to an existing mobile HIV testing service in South Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
All HIVnegative adults with symptoms characteristic of tuberculosis and all HIV-positive adults regardless of symptoms who attended a mobile HIV testing service operating in deprived communities in ape Town, South Africa between May 2009 and February 2011 were eligible for inclusion in the study. Of the 6,309 adults who accessed the mobile clinic during this period, 1,385 met these eligibility criteria, and 1,130 were enrolled and referred for the collection of sputum samples, which were analyzed by microscopy and culture. The prevalence of smear-positive tuberculosis was 2.2%, 3.3%, and 0.4% among HIV-negative study participants, newly diagnosed HIV-positive participants, and people already known to have HIV, respectively. The corresponding prevalences for smear-negative/culture-positive tuberculosis were 5.3%, 7.4%, and 4.3%, respectively (culture detects more tuberculosis cases than microscopy but, whereas microscopy can provide a result within 1–2 days, culture can take several weeks). Fifty-six new tuberculosis cases were identified, 42 people started tuberculosis treatment, and 34 completed treatment (a treatment success rate of 81%). Finally, the incremental cost of the intervention was US$1,117 per tuberculosis case detected and US$2,458 per tuberculosis case cured.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that active case finding for tuberculosis delivered through a mobile HIV testing service is feasible and has a high uptake, yield and treatment success in deprived communities with a high prevalence of HIV and tuberculosis. The findings also highlight the challenges faced by mobile population-based services such as losses between tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment, which were greatest for smear-negative/culture-positive people who were more difficult to contact than smear-positive people because of the greater time lag between sputum collection and diagnosis. Because the study was done in a single city, these findings need to be confirmed in other settings—the yield of active tuberculosis case finding reported here, for example, is not likely to be generalizable to countries that rely on sputum smears for tuberculosis diagnosis. Finally, given that the incremental cost per case treated in this study is 3-fold higher than the incremental cost per case treated under passive case detection in South Africa, further studies are needed to determine the cost-effectiveness and affordability of population-based tuberculosis screening.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001281.
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of tuberculosis, including information on tuberculosis and HIV, and on the Three I?s for HIV/TB (some information is in several languages); details of a 2011 meeting on the development of guidelines on screening for active tuberculosis are available
The Stop TB partnership is working towards tuberculosis elimination; patient stories about tuberculosis/HIV coinfection are available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis, about tuberculosis and HIV co-infection, and about the diagnosis of tuberculosis disease
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also has detailed information on all aspects of tuberculosis
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)
The Tuberculosis Survival Project, which aims to raise awareness of tuberculosis and provide support for people with tuberculosis, provides personal stories about treatment for tuberculosis; the Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative also provides personal stories about dealing with tuberculosis
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001281
PMCID: PMC3413719  PMID: 22879816
24.  Is Public Communication about End-of-Life Care Helping to Inform All?: Cancer News Coverage in African American vs. Mainstream Media 
Cancer  2011;118(8):2157-2162.
Background
Because cancers are a leading cause of death, these diseases receive a great deal of news attention. However, because news media frequently target specific racial or ethnic audiences, some populations may receive different information, and it is unknown whether reporting equally informs all about options for care at the end of life. This study of US news reporting compares “mainstream” (general market) media to African American media, which serves the largest minority group. The specific goal of this study was to determine whether these news media communicate differently about cure-directed cancer treatment and end-of-life alternatives.
Methods
This content analysis includes 660 cancer news stories from online and print media that target either African American or mainstream audiences. The main outcome measures include whether reporting discussed: adverse events of cancer treatment; cancer treatment failure; cancer death/dying; and end-of-life palliative or hospice care.
Results
Unadjusted and adjusted analyses indicate that the news stories in the African American media are less likely than those in mainstream media to discuss each of the topics studied. Comparing the proportions of news stories in mainstream vs. African American media , 31.6% vs. 13.6% discussed adverse events (OR 2.92; 95% CI 1.51-5.66; P=0.001); 14.1% vs. 4.2% mentioned treatment failure (OR, 3.79; 95% CI 1.45-9.88; P=0.006); and 11.9% vs. 3.8% focused on death/dying (OR, 3.42; 95% CI 1.39-8.38; P=.007). Lastly, although very few news stories discussed end-of-life hospice or palliative care, all were found in mainstream media (7/396 vs. 0/264).
Conclusion
The African American news media sampled are less likely than mainstream news media to portray negative cancer outcomes and end-of-life care. Given media's segmented audiences, these findings raise concerns that not all audiences are being informed equally well. Because media content is modifiable, there may be opportunities to improve public cancer communication.
doi:10.1002/cncr.26499
PMCID: PMC4164161  PMID: 21952922
disparities; decision making; preferences; communication; psycho oncology; hospice; palliative care; end-of-life; quality of life; behavior; ethics; public health
25.  Multiplex Identification of Gram-Positive Bacteria and Resistance Determinants Directly from Positive Blood Culture Broths: Evaluation of an Automated Microarray-Based Nucleic Acid Test 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001478.
Nathan Ledeboer and colleagues assess the performance of a diagnostic platform for detecting Gram-positive bacteria in blood cultures, an important step in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with sepsis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
A multicenter study was conducted to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy (sensitivity and specificity) of the Verigene Gram-Positive Blood Culture Test (BC-GP) test to identify 12 Gram-positive bacterial gene targets and three genetic resistance determinants directly from positive blood culture broths containing Gram-positive bacteria.
Methods and Findings
1,252 blood cultures containing Gram-positive bacteria were prospectively collected and tested at five clinical centers between April, 2011 and January, 2012. An additional 387 contrived blood cultures containing uncommon targets (e.g., Listeria spp., S. lugdunensis, vanB-positive Enterococci) were included to fully evaluate the performance of the BC-GP test. Sensitivity and specificity for the 12 specific genus or species targets identified by the BC-GP test ranged from 92.6%–100% and 95.4%–100%, respectively. Identification of the mecA gene in 599 cultures containing S. aureus or S. epidermidis was 98.6% sensitive and 94.3% specific compared to cefoxitin disk method. Identification of the vanA gene in 81 cultures containing Enterococcus faecium or E. faecalis was 100% sensitive and specific. Approximately 7.5% (87/1,157) of single-organism cultures contained Gram-positive bacteria not present on the BC-GP test panel. In 95 cultures containing multiple organisms the BC-GP test was in 71.6% (68/95) agreement with culture results. Retrospective analysis of 107 separate blood cultures demonstrated that identification of methicillin resistant S. aureus and vancomycin resistant Enterococcus spp. was completed an average of 41.8 to 42.4 h earlier using the BC-GP test compared to routine culture methods. The BC-GP test was unable to assign mecA to a specific organism in cultures containing more than one Staphylococcus isolate and does not identify common blood culture contaminants such as Micrococcus, Corynebacterium, and Bacillus.
Conclusions
The BC-GP test is a multiplex test capable of detecting most leading causes of Gram-positive bacterial blood stream infections as well as genetic markers of methicillin and vancomycin resistance directly from positive blood cultures.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Severe sepsis—a life-threatening condition that is usually is triggered by a bacterial infection of the bloodstream—is a major global cause of illness and death. In the US alone, sepsis causes up to 500,000 hospital admissions and more than 250,000 deaths a year. Normally, when microbes enter the human body, the immune system efficiently kills the invaders. In sepsis, the immune system goes into overdrive and the chemicals it releases into the blood to combat the infection trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to the formation of small blood clots and leaky blood vessels that impair the flow of blood to vital organs. In the most severe cases, multiple organs fail and the patient dies. Anyone can get sepsis but people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and the very young are most vulnerable. Symptoms of sepsis include fever, chills, rapid breathing, and a fast heart rate. In its early stages, sepsis can be treated with antibiotics alone, but people with severe sepsis need to be admitted to an intensive care unit where their vital organs can be supported while the infection is treated.
Why Was This Study Done?
The outcome of sepsis is affected by many factors, but fast, accurate identification of the bacterial infection and determination of its antibiotic susceptibility is essential to ensure that patients receive appropriate antibiotics. Laboratory diagnosis of bloodstream infections currently requires incubation of blood samples in a liquid medium (broth) followed by growth on solid media to identify the bacteria and to test for antibiotic sensitivity. It takes about 3 days after a positive broth culture is obtained to complete this process during which time patients are treated with broad spectrum antimicrobials, which may be ineffective. In this study, the researchers evaluate the sensitivity (a test's ability to identify patients who are positive for a specific condition) and specificity (a test's ability to identify patients who do not have a specific condition) of the Verigene BC-GP test. This multiplex, automated microarray-based nucleic acid test has been developed to directly and simultaneously identify 12 species of Gram-positive bacteria (the commonest cause of bacterial bloodstream infections) and three antibiotic resistance determinants in blood culture broths that contain Gram-positive bacteria.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used the Verigene BC-GP test and reference culture methods to identify the bacterial species and antibiotic resistance determinants present in 1,252 blood cultures containing Gram-positive bacteria collected at five US clinical centers and in 387 contrived blood cultures that contained bacterial species rarely found in the bloodstream. Compared to the reference culture method, the sensitivity of the Verigene BC-GP test for the bacterial species included in the test ranged from 92.6% to 100%; its specificity was 94.5%–100%. Identification of the mecA gene (a genetic marker for methicillin resistance) in cultures that contained Staphylococcus aureus or S. epidermis (Gram-positive bacteria that are often methicillin resistant) was 98.6% sensitive and 94.3% specific. Identification of the vanA gene (a genetic marker for vancomycin resistance) was 100% sensitive and specific in cultures containing Enterococcus species. Only 7.5% of single-organism cultures contained Gram-positive bacteria not present in the Verigene BC-GP test panel. Importantly, results obtained with the new test agreed those obtained with reference culture methods in three-quarters of cultures that contained more than one bacterial species. Finally, in a retrospective analysis of turn-around-time, identification of methicillin-resistant S. aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus species with the Verigene BC-GP test was about 42 hours faster than with reference methods.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the Verigene BC-GP test is capable of accurately identifying most leading causes of bloodstream infection with Gram-positive bacteria. Moreover, they show that the test can detect genetic markers of methicillin and vancomycin resistance directly from positive blood cultures, although they also reveal that the test cannot assign mecA positivity to a specific organism in a mixed culture, a finding that may mean that some patients are treated with unnecessary antibiotics. Overall, the researchers conclude that the Verigene BC-GP test has the potential to markedly reduce the turn-around-time for reporting bacterial identification from positive blood cultures. Its use should, therefore, improve the care of patients with sepsis by allowing physicians to prescribe appropriate antibiotics much earlier than is currently possible.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001478.
The US National Institute of General Medical Sciences has a fact sheet on sepsis
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information about sepsis
The Sepsis Alliance, a US not-for-profit organization, provides information about sepsis for patients and their families, including personal stories about sepsis
The not-for profit UK Sepsis Trust is another useful source of information about sepsis that includes patient stories
Wikipedia has a page on Gram-positive bacteria (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
Medlineplus provides links to additional resources about sepsis and about bacterial infections (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001478
PMCID: PMC3699453  PMID: 23843749

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