Cancer breakthrough by Lebanese doctor in the US

Foods identified by nutritionists to be rich in vitamin D. (Shutterstock image)
Updated 10 June 2019
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Cancer breakthrough by Lebanese doctor in the US

  • Study conducted by Dr. Tarek Haykal suggests 'sunshine' vitamin D can help patients live longer
  • The number of people in the Middle East with cancer is expected to double by 2030

CHICAGO: Adding vitamin D to diets can help cancer patients live longer, according to a study by a Lebanese doctor in the US.
The number of people in the Middle East with cancer is expected to double by the year 2030, with cancer of the breast, colon and lungs as the primary causes.
In the US, cancer is the second most leading cause of death.
But Dr. Tarek Haykal, 27, who is completing his residency in internal medicine at the Hurley Medical Center at Michigan State University in Flint, has released a study suggesting vitamin D carries some cancer benefit, not just for people in the Middle East but throughout the world.

Dr. Haykal and his team conducted a meta-analysis study involving 79,000 patients. The findings suggest  that a steady supplement of vitamin D for at least three years can help cancer patients live longer.

Dr. Tarek Haykal’s study points to a prolonged life for patients. (Supplied photo)

This works out to almost a 13 percent drop in cancer patient mortality.
The study was presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago recently.

"Vitamin D had a significant effect on lowering the risk of death among those with cancer, but unfortunately the study didn’t show any proof that it could protect against getting cancer," said Dr. Haykal, who is a lead author of the study.
The other doctors in the research team were Varun Samji, Yazan Zayed, Inderdeep Gakhal, Vijay Veerapaneni, Michele Obeid, Babikir Kheiri, Sunil Badami, Ghassan Bachuwa and Rizwan Danish.
"The point we tried to get at is to see if vitamin D had any benefit for cancer patients, mainly in primary prevention," said Dr Haykal.
"When we say primary prevention, we are talking about normal healthy individuals in the community, whether taking vitamin D really affects their cancer outcomes."
Three years of vitamin D supplements "were enough," he said.
"Mainly the benefit was in cancer-related mortality. So we tried to say there is a decrease in possible cancer deaths among patients taking vitamin D versus others.
"Does it mean that we should go around telling people to take vitamin D? Yes. We do need more awareness and we do encourage people to take vitamin D."
Vitamin D supplements have been studied as a primary prevention for illnesses including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus and cancer, Dr Haykal said.
Now it is being taken more seriously in addressing cancer.
"Global attention has never been on vitamin D, but now we are learning more and more that vitamin D is important to the health of your bones, and to your health in general," he said.
"We have more evidence that vitamin D has a lot of benefits, and we encourage patients and people in general to ensure they maintain good vitamin D levels."
Vitamin D —  "the sunshine vitamin" — is derived mainly from exposure to sunlight, but also comes from diets that include fish, mushrooms and egg yolk.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US after heart disease. Recent studies suggest vitamin D supplements can extend patients’ lives. (Shutterstock)

But even with this diet and exposure to sunshine, deficiencies still occur, he said.
Haykal, who was born in Lebanon and trained in medicine at the Lebanese University in Beirut, began his three-year residency training at Hurley in 2017, so the impact of cancer on people in the Middle East is important to him.
"There is some data suggesting that despite the Middle East being one of the most sun-exposed areas of the world, we are still quite deficient in vitamin D," he said.
"Vitamin D deficiency is an important topic now, worldwide. Hence, the importance of the supplementation that we spoke of in our research."
Haykal said he has always been driven by a desire to help those in need. "After going to medical school, I was always interested only in the sickest patients of all," he said.
"I have always had a lot of passion and energy for those who are medically ill, like the ones who have cancer or who are in an intensive care unit," he said.
"So that is where I started leaning toward people who really needed my help and who needed energy and hope. I started focusing on oncology and this passion kept growing. After finishing medical school, I almost knew that I wanted to do internal medicine to pursue oncology."
Inspired by his colleagues and mentors, Haykal has published 30 medical papers during his two years at the Hurley Medical Center.
"Vitamin D came to me as any idea would come to anyone," he said, adding that he began researching the subject with colleagues.
"Combining the data, we found that that vitamin D supplementation for at least three years gave the general population cancer-related mortality benefits and decreased risks, but it did not have much effect on the incidence of cancer, unfortunately."
Dr. Haykal recommends people have their vitamin D levels checked during routine health examinations.
"People are not as aware of vitamin D because it doesn't necessarily cause immediate medical issues. Rather, it is a chronic process. So, if you are deficient, you are never going to have any symptoms that will alarm you.
"Rather, you have to check with your physician and make sure that you are adequately supplemented.
"Staying healthy does not mean you have to obsess about everything you eat or drink. But adopting a healthy lifestyle is important."


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 7 min 44 sec ago
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”