Second opinion: A cancer surgeon shares his perspective and advice

July 23, 2014 | by

Diagnostic errors are far from uncommon. In fact, a recent study found that they affect about 12 million people, or 1 in 20 patients,  in the U.S. each year.

medical chart and second opinions

Diagnosed with cancer? Get a second opinion at an expert research and treatment center like City of Hope. Clayton Lau, M.D., explains why it could save your life.

With cancer, those errors in diagnosis can have a profound impact. A missed or delayed diagnosis can make the disease that much harder to treat, as the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research recently noted in calling attention to the diagnostic errors research.

This means that patients who’ve been diagnosed with cancer shouldn’t always assume that either the diagnosis or their options are precisely what they’ve been told. Sometimes a cancer has progressed more than the diagnostic tests suggest; sometimes it’s progressed less. And sometimes the diagnosis is completely off-base.

Clayton S. Lau, M.D., associate clinical professor and an expert in testicular cancer surgery at City of Hope, explains the difference that second opinions can make in getting a proper cancer diagnosis and care. » Continue Reading

Cancer expertise matters. Just ask ex-lymphoma patient Christine Pechera

July 22, 2014 | by

Eleven years ago, lymphoma patient Christine Pechera began the long road toward a cancer-free life.

Christine Pechera unveils 2014 City of Hope Rose Parade Float Rendering at the Wrigley Mansion.

Former lymphoma patient Christine Pechera unveils 2014 City of Hope Rose Parade Float Rendering at the Tournament of Roses – Wrigley Mansion. Her second opinion at City of Hope ultimately led to her remission.

She had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and told by doctors elsewhere that her lifespan likely would be measured in months, not years. Refusing to give up, she came to City of Hope for a second opinion. There, she received her first encouraging words. She began treatment soon after watching the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, an event that she’d watched as a child and that she thought she might never see again.

After undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and an autologous stem cell transplant – a procedure using her own stem cells – Pechera returned to health, only to relapse in 2005.

She can still find the YouTube video pleading for help in the search for a matching bone marrow donor. Because she was Filipino, matches were hard to come by; her search was even featured on “Nightline,” highlighting the need for more diversity among donors. Finally, a man in Hong Kong – who never saw the video or “Nightline” – was identified as a match.

His stem cells – and the expertise of City of Hope’s lymphoma experts – saved Pechera’s life. The journey that began with a poor prognosis at another institution brought her back to the Rose Parade on January 1 of this year. This time, the former lymphoma patient rode on City of Hope’s float, paying tribute to the fact that the dream of being cancer-free can be within reach, even in some of the toughest cases. » Continue Reading

Brain tumors: One surgeon’s quest to transform the future (w/VIDEO)

July 21, 2014 | by

Brain surgery is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage, as well as curiosity and compassion. The truly great surgeons also have a desire to find new, and better ways, of healing the brain. Enter Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at City of Hope.

Now a pioneer in brain tumor treatment, Badie entered medicine because of encouragement from his father. Healthy at the time, the family patriarch later succumbed to a brain tumor, the type of cancer in which his son now specializes.

Driven in part by that experience, Badie has since gone beyond the operating room. He wanted to help not just today’s patients, but also tomorrow’s patients. Through collaborations with other scientists and other clinicians, he knew he could conduct groundbreaking research that would help both.

City of Hope allows him to do all of this. That’s why he’s here.

Badie is now working to transform brain tumor treatment through research collaborations using nanoparticles, engineered T cells, engineered stem cells and other novel treatments.

The device that he’s developing “will transform the way we do brain tumor treatment,” he says. “My research gives me hope.”

Watch his story.

And read the story of Bridget Hanchette. Diagnosed with grade IV glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of malignant brain tumor, the Wisconsin mother of three was told by her doctor that she had only a year to live. A second doctor told her the same thing. Finally she came to City of Hope for an appointment with Badie. That was five years ago. 


Learn more about getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what’s required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

Each day is special for cancer survivors (w/VIDEO)

July 16, 2014 | by

The best measure of success in the fight against cancer is in lives saved and families intact, in extra days made special simply because they exist.

Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery at City of Hope, understands what precedes that special awareness. When cancer strikes, one minute a person may feel healthy and young, he says, and in the next, they’re wondering how many years they have left.

In those situations, expertise matters. Commitment to research, knowledge of new therapies, unrelenting dedication to quality and improvement all play a role in the best possible cancer care. City of Hope has those factors. But the best measure of cancer care is cancer outcomes – and City of Hope has those, too.

» Continue Reading

Her breast cancer diagnosis was grim; a second opinion saved her life

July 15, 2014 | by

At 29, Kommah McDowell was a successful young professional engaged to be married to her best friend. She worked in the financial services sector and kick-boxed to keep in shape and to relax. Then came the diagnosis of triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. She was told she had a 5 percent chance of living two years. Here’s her story …

breast cancer

Kommah McDowell, a breast cancer survivor, serves as a mentor for black women who recently completed breast cancer treatment and are transitioning into the follow-up stage of their care.

For seven months, McDowell had been visiting her primary care doctor every other week complaining of pain, tenderness, swelling and a lump in her right breast. She was assured it was only a benign cyst that would go away – she was too young to have cancer. Finally, at McDowell’s insistence, the “cyst” was removed. During that surgery, the doctor found cancer.

“Unbelievably, the medical staff was not familiar with the type of cancer,” McDowell said. “They just knew it was cancer and the best course of action was to remove it immediately. Fortunately, I was able to go to City of Hope for a second opinion and treatment.” » Continue Reading

City of Hope doctors, nurses and patients stand up to cancer (w/VIDEO)

May 20, 2014 | by

Symbolism is powerful. Just ask any of the City of Hope doctors, nurses or patients who participated in The Baton Pass at City of Hope’s recent Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.

The Baton Pass is a joint campaign by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and Siemens to raise funds for SU2C’s cancer research efforts. It launched March 19 on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and will conclude Sept. 5. In between, the Baton will appear at events across the country.

One of those events was City of Hope’s annual reunion of bone marrow transplant recipients and their families, as well as the doctors and nurses who cared for them.

Watch them stand up to cancer.


Learn more about hematopoietic cell transplantation at City of Hope and our annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.



What makes City of Hope research different? Collaboration (w/VIDEO)

May 8, 2014 | by

Regardless of their institution, all cancer researchers want one thing – to find a cure for cancer. But City of Hope researchers have some advantages in this quest.

The advantages start with a culture of collaboration. “The fact that we can make things on campus, test things on campus, do everything on campus … What’s different here is things make it to the patient,” says Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Molecular Medicine, in the video above.

“We’ve got a major hospital that’s doing state of the art therapies, and we have a very good basic science institute on the same campus. There’s a lot of give and take between those two,” says John Zaia, M.D., the Aaron D. and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy, as well as the chair and professor of the Department of Virology at City of Hope.

Good science needs more than collaboration, of course. It also requires sophisticated facilities that allow researchers to accomplish their goals. And it requires institutional commitment, resources and a proven track record to attract the best scientists. City of Hope has all that.

But, still, collaboration is the foundation.

Says Karen Aboody, M.D., associate professor of neurosciences and neurosurgery: “There’s constant communication between the researchers and the clinicians. Everybody shares their experience and their techniques.”


Watch our scientists explain what makes City of Hope special.

Take a virtual tour of City of Hope.

And learn more about cancer research at City of Hope.



From donor to recipient: Follow the blood (w/VIDEO)

May 6, 2014 | by

Every day in the United States, an estimated 40,000 units of blood products are used to treat the injured and the ill. This includes City of Hope patients, who count on donated blood during surgery or while undergoing radiation, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation — all of which can diminish a patient’s ability to produce their own blood or specific components of it.

This would not be possible if not for the generosity of more than 9 million Americans who donate blood at least once a year.

What happens to blood from the time it is collected until it is needed by, and transfused into, a patient? Find out in the video below.

What happens to blood from the time it’s collected until it’s needed by, and transfused into, a patient? Find out in the video “Follow the Blood,” above.

While these donors know that their contributions can save a life, they may not be aware of the journey blood takes after it leaves their veins.

To help shed light on that mystery, we took an inside look at City of Hope’s Michael Amini Transfusion Medicine Center. There, we trace a blood’s voyage from the time it is collected to its eventual destination: being transfused into a patient who needs it during cancer treatment.

To see the blood’s journey from collection to transfusion, watch our video “Follow the Blood,” above.  We’re not the only ones who found this process mesmerizing; the video has been viewed almost 30,000 times so far on our YouTube channel. It has also been featured on Gizmodo, Digg and – and received compliments from our own blood donor center staff. » Continue Reading

‘Cancer Urban Legends:’ The truth is out there (w/VIDEO)

May 4, 2014 | by

With so many cancer-related rumors circulating amid friends and colleagues and, of course, on the Internet, people sometimes find themselves scratching their heads. Is it really true? Does deodorant really cause cancer? Does soy really cause cancer? Do cell phones really cause cancer?

On April 23, City of Hope physicians and researchers came together to have a conversation about these cancer urban legends. During this lively discussion, they not only helped put cancer facts into perspective, they offered advice on healthy eating and living, prevention and some of the research underway at City of Hope.

Moderator Linda H. Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research and a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, led the discussion, asking tough questions and raising concerns that many people no doubt have. » Continue Reading

Cancer risk posed by nail salons’ UV lights: Putting it in perspective

May 1, 2014 | by

An increased risk of skin cancer seems a high price to pay for quickly dried fingernails – and yet a recent study suggests that’s what you get with repeated use of ultraviolet, or UV, lamps used at nail salons.

UV risk and nail salons

The UV lights used at nail salons may pose a slightly increased risk of cancer, but the operative word is “slightly.”

The lamps-and-fingernails study, published April 30 in JAMA Dermatology, was a natural headline-grabber:

24 Visits to the Nail Salon Could Trigger Skin CancerTime

Could drying your nails at the salon give you cancer?Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nail salon UV lamps: Are they safe? – CBS News

But the study – and the reaction to it – may shed as much light on the perception of risk as it does on the risk of skin cancer.

City of Hope experts discussed both at our recent “Cancer Urban Legends: Fact or Fiction?” Ask the Experts presentation. The topics reflected the cancer myths, rumors and worries experienced by the average consumer and, perhaps unsurprisingly here in well-manicured Southern California, the risk posed by nail salon lights was one of those concerns. » Continue Reading