Cancer Connections

Beating Cancer in the Highlands ... This column is brought to you regularly by the Southern Highlands Cancer Leadership Committee and is first published in the Lifestyle section of the Southern Highland News. It is designed to inform everybody of matters relating to cancer in our local community and the wider society. We aim to focus on local news, forthcoming events, services and other cancer issues.

Cancer Connections - January 2019

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Cancer Research remains ESSENTIAL
Continuing on from last month’s mention of some of the progress being made in cancer research, I am providing a brief summary of an item in ‘The New Daily’ which early last month reported on a promising discovery by Australian researchers.

A unique biomarker for cancer

The discovery of a unique DNA signature common to multiple cancers could one day revolutionise the way we diagnose cancer, particularly in its early stages. The cancer marker was identified by scientists at the University of Queensland who have also developed a simple test to detect it in blood and biopsy tissue. Senior researcher Matt Trau (pictured left) said it had been difficult to find a “simple marker” that would distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones. “We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated,” said Professor Trau. “Even for breast cancer, there are a dozen types, so we thought there would be different tests for different types of cancer.” The researchers were surprised to find the marker appeared in every type of breast cancer they examined, as well as in people with prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma.

“Usually, the approach to find cancer markers … is to look at the sequence of DNA,” Professor Trau said. Taking a different tack, he and his colleagues looked instead at patterns of molecules called methyl groups, which decorate the DNA and control which genes are switched on and off. The position of these molecules forms part of the epigenome. The researchers found that in healthy cells, methyl groups are spread out across the genome. But on the genomes of cancer cells, methyl groups were positioned in intense clusters at specific locations. “Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern,” Professor Trau said. The researchers developed a test which can detect cancer cells by picking up this epigenetic pattern in blood and biopsy tissue.

Associate Professor Elin Gray, a senior cancer researcher at Edith Cowan University, said the research was an exciting piece of work that offered “a lot of potential”. “It’s in its early stages and will have to be validated … but I think it’s very interesting - it’s a totally different approach.”

Cancer referrals on the increase

Our tireless Secretary of the Southern Highlands branch of Can Assist, Terry Hughes, reports that the number of new cancer patients getting in touch with our branch since the start of July 2018 is already 63. I can indicate that this does represent an increase on previous years. New referrals of people diagnosed with cancer and seeking some form of support from Can Assist numbered 93 in 2015/2016, 105 in 2016/2017 and 104 in 2017/2018. The work of the local charity is only made possible by the continuing generosity of donors in the Southern Highlands who give directly or who support the many fundraising activities held in the name of Can Assist. Anyone wishing to hold a function to benefit their work should get in touch with the Secretary by email to so that the appropriate approval can be organised.

Coming Events
• Southern Highlands branch of Can Assist will meet at Mittagong RSL Club, 10am Feb 12th.

• Rare Cancers Australia hold their Mount Kosciuszko Challenge and inaugural “Parliament to Peak” cycle ride in March. Climb from Thredbo to the summit on Sat. March 2nd. Full details on the RCA website at

Grahame Hackett (Chair, Southern Highlands Cancer Leadership Committee)
0407 234 780 or


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