Equipping the immune system to fight cancer – a disease that thrives on mutations and circumventing the body’s natural defenses – is within reach. In fact, City of Hope researchers are testing one approach in clinical trials now.
Scientists take a number of steps to turn cancer patients’ T cells – white blood cells that are part of the immune system’s defenses – into smart cells that can locate elusive cancer cells. They also get help from nature, using the natural properties of what most people consider agents of infection.
First, they use bacteria to help the patient’s own T cells grow in the lab – because cell reproduction is something bacteria do very well. Then they use a harmless virus to manipulate the DNA of the T cell so it can recognize certain markers on a cancer cell that flag them as targets for attack.
KPCC recently reported on this research, explaining how the immune system might be mobilized to attack cancers that are good at hiding from the body.
Bacteria, viruses, a patient’s own immune system and a team of top scientists all working in concert against cancer … Sound complicated? In about two and a half minutes, the above video artfully sums up the process step by step.
So far, City of Hope is studying this approach in a number of blood cancers through the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.
Learn more about T cell immunotherapy at City of Hope.
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website 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.
One of American’s great sportscasters, Stuart Scott, passed away from recurrent cancer of the appendix at the young age of 49. His cancer was diagnosed when he was only 40 years old. It was found during an operation for appendicitis. His courageous fight against this disease began in 2007, resumed again with an operation for recurrent cancer in 2011, and yet again in 2013 when the cancer returned. Despite surgery, a long period of surgical healing, and then prolonged courses of different kinds of chemotherapy, he died on Jan. 4, 2015.
Scott went public with his struggle against the disease, and urged people to follow his example to fight cancer with both chemotherapy and an aggressive exercise program to keep his body strong. Because so many of my patients suffer from fatigue associated with treatments, I am sure his fitness program improved his quality of life.
But more important for all of us, we should realize that the occurrence of cancer at a young age (40 in Scott’s case) should raise a red flag to patients, families and physicians. Hereditary cancer syndromes due to mutations in our genes are the cause of 5 to 10 percent of cancers. And when we are reminded of this by the death of one of our celebrities at a young age, we should each examine our own family history and get tested for gene abnormalities.
When should we be asking for a discussion about gene testing? Family cancer syndromes are likely to be present when there are multiple family members with cancer, or when an individual patient has more than one cancer, or when a cancer occurs at a young age (less than 50). While we do not know if Scott was tested (that’s private health information), having cancer at age 40 warrants discussing gene testing with a physician.
When it comes to cancer, your family history may provide more questions than answers: How do my genes increase my risk for cancer? No one in my family has had cancer; does that mean I won’t get cancer? What cancers are common in certain populations and ethnicities?
City of Hope experts have some guidance. “Your genes are not your destiny, but they can play a role in the decisions you make related to cancer screenings, diet and interventions that you do along the way,” said Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of medical quality and an associate clinical professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “You can take an active role in how you move along in life, rather than be the passive recipient of the hand that genetics happens to deal to you.” » Continue Reading
On Jan. 1, 2015, six City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope’s Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is “Made Possible by HOPE.” The theme of the parade is “Inspiring Stories.”
Here, Kari Penner shares the inspiring story of her battle for her son.
By Kari Penner
In 2002 at age 20, I decided to move to Romania for one year to volunteer in an orphanage. More than a year went by, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the precious children there.
In July 2003, a newborn who had been abandoned at birth was brought to the orphanage when he was 2 months old. This was Adi. In November 2004, Adi now 16 months old started getting sick. He had high fevers for a week and blood tests revealed severe anemia. More tests were run and in early December 2004 and Adi was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that started on his adrenal gland and spread to his bone marrow.
I got to work researching and trying to find treatment options for him. I tried to get him to the States for treatment, but I didn’t have any luck. Children in foster care are not allowed to leave the country.
I felt like there were two options: Walk away and don’t look back, yet live with regret – or fight alongside this precious child and adopt him as my own.
I chose Adi. » Continue Reading
What do rat poison, rocket fuel and embalming fluid have in common?
They all share ingredients found in cigarette smoke.
Once a cigarette is lit, it releases more than 7,000 chemicals into the air, many of them both toxic and carcinogenic. A recent Journal of the American Medical Association study attributed 14 million medical conditions to smoking tobacco products.
About one in five deaths in the United States are caused by smoking – more than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents combined. It’s also linked to around 85 percent of lung cancers. Check out our video to see what’s in cigarette smoke.
Learn more about becoming a patient or 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.
Blueberries, cinnamon, baikal scullcap, grape seed extract (and grape skin extract), mushrooms, barberry, pomegranates … all contain compounds with the potential to treat, or prevent, cancer.
Scientists at City of Hope have found tantalizing evidence of this potential and are determined to explore it to the fullest. They’re researching, testing and developing new therapies made from nature’s bounty — from the vegetables, fruits and herbs many people take for granted as simply plants, not medicine.
To help them in their work, City of Hope has launched a Program in Natural Therapies, an effort to find more effective, but also less toxic, cancer therapies. The researchers have already made considerable progress. » Continue Reading
In a single day, former professional triathlete Lisa Birk learned she couldn’t have children and that she had breast cancer.
“Where do you go from there?” she asks.
For Birk, who swims three miles, runs 10 miles and cycles every day, the answer ultimately was a decision to take control of her cancer care. After receiving less-than-ideal treatment at a local hospital, Birk came to City of Hope.
Having cancer didn’t change her exercise routine, and it wasn’t going to change her ability to manage her life.
Learn more about her story – and why expert cancer care matters – in this video.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment and research at City of Hope.
Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website 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.
Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., assistant clinical professor of surgery in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology, explains his approach to what’s known as “active surveillance” of men with prostate cancer. Patients need to be educated about their treatment options, he writes.
Active surveillance eligibility
Active surveillance is an option offered to patients with “low-risk” prostate cancer. It entails forgoing any immediate treatment, and instead monitoring a patient’s cancer to ensure it shows no signs of worsening. If there are any signs of disease progression, the option for curative treatment can still be offered. Active surveillance attempts to avoid unnecessary treatments for patients with prostate cancers that may not become clinically significant or impactful to a man’s life.
Such treatments have potential risks for side effects. Those considered low-risk have a prostate specific antigen (PSA) value of less than 10, a biopsy Gleason of six or less, and a rectal exam that reveals nothing beyond a small nodule confined to one side of the prostate. When one of my patients embarks on active surveillance, I repeat the PSA, rectal exam and biopsy to ensure that their tumor is in fact truly low-risk. The success of this strategy is predicated on recurring follow-ups and reassessment to detect worsening changes of the tumor grade, volume or stage. It is important to understand that if there are signs of cancer progression, we can still offer treatment with curative intent.
Currently, our ability to stratify who is low-risk is based on clinical parameters of the PSA, Gleason score and clinical stage, which is detected by a rectal exam. Newer biomarkers are being studied to improve risk stratification, including the use of novel markers in serum, urine, biopsy tissue and radiographic test like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Radiation oncology is one of the three main specialties involved in the successful treatment of cancer, along with surgical oncology and medical oncology. Experts in this field, known as radiation oncologists, advise patients as to whether radiation therapy will be useful for their cancer – and how it can best be safely and effectively delivered.
Here, Jeffrey Y.C. Wong, M.D., chair of radiation oncology at City of Hope, shares what he sees as the future of radiation oncology and the importance of this type of therapy in the treatment of cancer.
How and why did you decide to become a radiation oncologist?
I’ve always had an interest in the math, physics and engineering fields. I almost became an engineer, but decided to switch to oncology with a focus in medicine, and radiation oncology is a good blend of both. Radiation oncology is a blend of engineering, computer sciences, physics, biology and medicine, with the primary goal of helping people.
What inspires you daily to do the work you do?
I, along with my colleagues at City of Hope, have the opportunity to make a difference in patients” lives every day. For many patients, our therapies can help result in a cure of their cancer. We also have the opportunity to make a contribution to cancer research and advance the field of oncology. » Continue Reading
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Here, Bertram Yuh, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology at City of Hope, explains the importance of understanding the risk factors for the disease and ways to reduce those risks, as well as overall prostate health.
“What are my prostate cancer risks?” That’s becoming a more common, and increasingly important, question.
A lot of men wonder what can be done to prevent or reduce their risk of prostate cancer. The good news is, there’s a lot of research being conducted in this area regarding risks and influencing factors.
We already know there are racial predilections, such as that African-American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and that, when they’re diagnosed, the cancer tends to be more aggressive. We also know that prostate cancer is less common in Asian-American and Hispanic men.
Further, while prostate cancer is certainly more common in older men, there is some recent clinical literature that states prostate cancer in younger men can be more aggressive. It is quite possible for a 47-year-old and a 77-year-old to have prostate cancers that behave differently.
I can’t treat every patient the same way just because their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) or Gleason grades look the same. In my role as a urology oncologist, I need to look at the whole patient.