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Cancer in your family history? Your genes are not your destiny

November 22, 2014 | by

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


One mother’s journey through adoption and neuroblastoma

November 20, 2014 | by

On Jan. 1, 2015, five 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. 

Kari Penner with son Adi

Kari Penner, left, fought to get the best treatment for her now-son Adi, whom she met in a Romanian orphanage and who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before he was even 2 years old. (Photo courtesy of Kari Penner)

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’s in cigarette smoke? Find out in this video

November 4, 2014 | by


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.

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Learn more about lung cancer research and treatment at City of Hope, as well as lung cancer screening.

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.


Natural therapies hold untapped (for now) potential against cancer

October 16, 2014 | by

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.

Blueberries against cancer

These aren’t just blueberries. They’re a potential cancer-fighting powerhouse.

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


Triathlete and breast cancer patient Lisa Birk: Take control (VIDEO)

October 7, 2014 | by


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.

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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.


Cancer insights: Active surveillance is not avoiding the issue

September 22, 2014 | by

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

Prostate cancer expert Jonathan Yamzon

Men with prostate cancer need to understand their options, says Jonathan Yamzon, a prostate cancer expert at City of Hope. Immediate treatment isn’t always warranted.

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).

» Continue Reading


Meet our doctors: Jeffrey Wong on the future of radiation therapy

September 6, 2014 | by

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.

Jeffrey Wong

Radiation is one of the three main treatments for cancer, with surgery and medication being the other two. Here, Jeffrey Wong explains the advances in radiation oncology and the importance of this type of treatment.

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


Cancer insights: Urologist Bertram Yuh on prostate cancer risk

September 2, 2014 | by

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.

Prostate cancer expert Bertram Yuh

Bertram Yuh, a urologic cancer expert at City of Hope, explains prostate cancer risk factors and how to reduce them.

“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.

» Continue Reading


Prostate cancer infographic: How to reduce prostate cancer risk

September 1, 2014 | by

Prostate Health**
Learn more about prostate health, plus prostate cancer research and treatment, at City of Hope.

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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.

 


Cancer insights: My father’s prostate cancer changed how I practice

August 26, 2014 | by

Jennifer Linehan, M.D., an assistant clinical professor in City of Hope’s Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology in Antelope Valley, thought she knew all there was to know about treating prostate cancer. Then her father was diagnosed with the disease. This is her story.

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My father is 69 years old, has no health problems, is very active and still works diligently every day, from 5 a.m. till the evening. He is always smiling, laughing and enjoying life no matter what comes his way. He is an inspiration to me.

About 12 months ago, I was waiting for him to send me his prostate specific antigen (PSA) results from his recent physical. I just wanted to take a look. He was busy at work and told me that his PSA number was fine. I asked my mom to email it to me anyway. His PSA score was 28. I was stunned. I re-read the number at least twice to make sure it didn’t read 2.8 instead of 28.

Jennifer Linehan shares her story of dealing with prostate cancer first-hand, and how it affects how she treats her own patients.

A prostate cancer expert, Jennifer Linehan says her father’s treatment for prostate cancer has changed how she practices medicine and how she treats her own patients.

How could this be? I am a urologist.  How did I miss this? My head spun as every worst-case scenario started to fill my mind. As I was trying to calm down, I realized he needed a prostate biopsy. I started to think about who would do his surgery. He needed to come to City of Hope. My thoughts were racing. I began to wonder how far the disease had spread.

Finally, I got the nerve to call my parents; they could hear that my voice was panicked. I was panicked. I knew the realities that came with a high PSA and being diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was trying to keep calm, but instead blurted out: “How did this happen? Hasn’t your primary care physician been checking?”

Apparently, my father had been given the option of having his PSA checked for the last five years, but he refused every time. He told me that it was easier not knowing and not getting checked, because he was feeling fine. I tried to explain to him that prostate cancer is a silent killer. Often, a man won’t have any symptoms until the disease has progressed into the spine. I took a deep breath, apologized for my overreaction, and walked my parents through the next steps.

I was supposed to be the calm one, in control, but it’s all so different when someone so close to you is diagnosed.

» Continue Reading