Why breast cancer is more dangerous for new moms

Breast cancers that emerge after a woman gives birth are significantly more deadly. Those diagnosed within five years of childbirth are about three times more likely to spread and give rise to life-threatening metastatic tumors. Researchers now are closing in on the reasons why.

mother infant painting (1)
Scientists at OHSU have discovered how the liver – one of the most common sites of breast cancer metastasis – becomes vulnerable to tumor invasion after childbirth. Using rodent models, they’ve shown that as the liver recovers from the demands of pregnancy and lactation it becomes an inviting landing spot for escaping cancer cells to take root and grow.

And the same process appears likely to occur in women. The researchers dug into the details of more than 500 cases of young women’s breast cancer and found a liver-specific increase in metastasis among those diagnosed within five years of giving birth. If confirmed by more direct evidence, the authors say their findings could help physicians choose more effective treatments for young mothers diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers reported the findings in the February issue of Cancer Discovery.

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First in philanthropy: Phil and Penny Knight

phil and brian

Phil Knight and Brian Druker, M.D., appeared on “Good Morning America” in June 2015, when the record-setting Knight Cancer Challenge raised $1 billion for cancer research at OHSU.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny ranked no. 1 in The Chronicle of Philanthropy list of Americans who donated the most to charity in 2016.

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The rise of liver cancer deaths in Oregon

liver cancer mortality map

Change in the age-standardized liver cancer mortality rate, 1980-2014 (Mokdad et al.)

Seven of the 10 U.S. counties with the fastest growth in liver cancer deaths are in Oregon, according to an analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Oregon’s mortality rate from liver cancer, 6.74 per 100,000, is still lower than the national rate of 6.81. But Oregon’s death rate has risen 174 percent since 1980, while the national rate rose 88 percent. A news report in The Bend Bulletin notes that all but one county in Oregon had an above-average increase in its liver cancer death rate since 1980.

Barry Schlansky, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Medicine, offered his perspective in The Bulletin:

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What to make of smart machines that may soon outperform doctors

Artificial neural networks are getting really good at identifying skin cancer

AI cancer screen (1)

The first artificial intelligence to solve scientific problems debuted in 1967, when it proved capable of deducing molecular structures from mass spectrometry data. Now, of course, we have AIs that trounce “Jeopardy!” champions and chess grandmasters. And this week the machines ticked off a victory in the field of medicine: identifying melanomas and malignant carcinomas as accurately as expert humans, according to a report in the journal Nature.

“We are close to having a computer with artificial intelligence that performs as well as board-certified dermatologists in being able to discriminate melanomas from moles using digital images,” said Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Knight Cancer Institute’s melanoma research program and chair of the OHSU Department of Dermatology. Leachman co-authored a commentary in Nature on the new AI program developed by a group at Stanford University.

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Charting the financial conflicts of doctors on Twitter


A detailed look at the tweeting habits of more than 600 hematologist-oncologists in the U.S. and found that 72 percent were recipients of industry money for consulting, travel, lodging, or food and beverage. It’s raising questions about physicians’ duty to report conflict of interest when using social media.

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A story of untreated mental illness and cancer


Jennifer Lycette, M.D.

“My first thought, as I viewed the CT images, was a somewhat fantastic notion that the tumor on the monitor screen could not possibly be real,” recalled Jennifer Lycette, M.D., an oncologist with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute practicing in Astoria.

“Then I wondered how it had come to be. Somehow a living, breathing woman had been bearing this tumor — for many months, if not years, judging by the size of it. All without medical care until now, according to my colleague who had called me to consult,” Lycette continued in a forceful essay in the New England Journal of Medicine. It’s a meditation on her patient’s death – and what it reveals about the provision of mental health services in rural America:

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For rare tumors, a far-reaching trial of immunotherapy

The first federally funded clinical trial of immunotherapy for rare cancers launched this week under the auspices of SWOG, the research consortium headquartered at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. Over 30 different types of rare cancers – defined as less than a 6 in 100,000 incidence per year – will be studied.

C. Ryan - suit

The study team includes OHSU’s Christopher Ryan, M.D.

The DART trial is testing the combined use of ipilimumab, a monoclonal antibody targeting the T-cell antigen CTLA4, and nivolumab, a monoclonal targeting the PD-1 receptor. The combination proved to be strikingly effective against melanoma, fueling enthusiasm for testing it in a wide array of solid tumors.

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Enterprising cancer treatment ideas nurtured with pilot funds


Finding new treatment targets for aggressive prostate cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. Visualizing how breast tumors grow resistant to drug therapy. Using mobile phone sensors to track symptoms in patients with pancreatic cancer. These are some of the new pilot projects funded by the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

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Knight Cancer signal achievements of 2016


Lara Davis, M.D., and Payton Williams, a former patient, at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in a ceremony awarding Davis a young investigator grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels.

The staff and faculty of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute accomplished much together during the past year. Here’s a sampling of achievements that reflect the mission of delivering compassionate care and scientific discoveries that will end cancer as we know it:

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The ‘Cancer translated’ blog top ten posts of 2016

tumor imaging

The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s “Cancer translated” blog explores new findings, ideas and debates in cancer medicine, from basic biology, to clinical trials, to prevention, survivorship and patient advocacy. We sorted a year’s worth of posts to find the most heavily trafficked reports. Here’s the top 10 in order of popularity:

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Signal achievements

Signal achievements

A year of accomplishments by Knight Cancer Institute staff and faculty reflects a mission of delivering compassionate care and scientific discovery that will end cancer as we know it.