When a cancerous tumor grows bone on top of bone — and normal women can’t reverse it

As a psychologist at the University of Kansas, Dr. Abby Kuhn is fascinated by how human bodies build up to expand over time. Last year, a far stranger phenomenon caught her attention than normal…

When a cancerous tumor grows bone on top of bone — and normal women can’t reverse it

As a psychologist at the University of Kansas, Dr. Abby Kuhn is fascinated by how human bodies build up to expand over time. Last year, a far stranger phenomenon caught her attention than normal weight gain: Women had developed scoliosis in their spine and were therefore gaining wider hips than they’d ever known.

“I’ve been studying weight gain for a long time, and I never, ever thought of it that way,” Dr. Kuhn told The Kansas City Star. “When I realized that this was an unusual event that had never been linked to anything before, it opened up a whole new direction for me.”

Almost immediately, Dr. Kuhn became curious about what could be causing the phenomenon, and how it could possibly be happening to women. A one-of-a-kind test can provide a clear answer, she realized, and she found one. The test, developed by UCLA researchers, measures the tumors of bone cells called osteoblasts. In Dr. Kuhn’s tests, women whose tumors were found to be osteoblasts (containing a protein called NAD+) had the most pronounced curves in their hips. Osteoblasts produce an enzyme that causes the shape and density of a person’s bones to develop in a specific way. According to data gathered in Dr. Kuhn’s study, those women with tumors tend to gain more weight.

And women who grew up without osteoblasts had unusual soft hips.

“They were the ones with growths who had the low density,” Dr. Kuhn said. “And they were the ones with flat hips. I would say it’s a signal that they aren’t developing bone health.”

And women who developed the tumors seemed to simply balloon the tips of their hips.

“We found the tumor below hipbone doesn’t change at all, but the tip seems to change quite a bit,” Dr. Kuhn said. “It may be because the tumor is putting on a little weight that they’re gaining height.”

Dr. Kuhn thinks that as hip growth hormones enter the body, they can make people’s bones grow. If she can successfully go forward with her research, she could lead to a new treatment for growing tall women who are dying from osteoarthritis, which has brought an increased prevalence of spinal disease in women.

“I really didn’t expect to be carrying it around for a year,” one of her subjects, Hanaah Brill, told The Star. She was surprised when, one month after her tumor diagnosis, she started to experience physical problems. “I went to the doctor’s office, and he had to give me some shots to pull up my hips. He told me they had got different sizes, and that I needed to have them taken out.”

Read the full story at The Kansas City Star.

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