Patient Care

Hematologist-oncologist Guido Marcucci wants ‘a society free of cancer’

April 25, 2015 | by

Guido Marcucci, M.D., wants to put himself out of business.

Marcucci Guido

Renowned hematologist-oncologist Guido Marcucci is co-director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within our Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.

A respected clinician and esteemed basic and translational scientist, Marcucci joins City of Hope as co-director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute. In this position, and as director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research, Marcucci will guide research into improved treatments, and even cures, for leukemia and other hematologic malignancies.

“For a physician-scientist like myself, City of Hope is an ideal place to work because both the research and clinical missions are fundamental and equally important for pursuing a society free of cancer,” he said.

Marcucci said he has a long-held passion for cancer research, and in particular for understanding its root causes. “I have always been interested in answering the fundamental questions of what events initiate cancer, and I believe that leukemia can be used as a model to answer these questions,” he said.

Ultimately, Marcucci hopes his work will make cancer — and in particular, leukemia — a footnote in history. “I know what a devastating disease leukemia can be for patients and their families. I would love one day to be able to say that I helped to alleviate their suffering.”

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Take-away from new breast cancer screening guidelines: It’s personal

April 21, 2015 | by

In light of the new breast cancer screening guidelines, which call for women to have mammograms every other year from age 50 to 74, it’s more important than ever for women to understand their individual risk.

breast cancer screening

New breast cancer screening guidelines call for women age 50 to 74 to have mammograms every other year.

On Monday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task force released new breast cancer screening guidelines that are a clear withdrawal from one-size-fits-all screening. For women at “average risk,” every other year from 50 to 74 seems to be the window that has the most benefit and least harm. For women at increased breast cancer risk, the guidelines say that earlier and more frequent screening should be considered.

“There is a push to advocate for the general population to discuss this with their physicians and for clinicians to be more educated – and that’s good. It’s individualized medicine,” said Lusine Tumyan, M.D., chief of breast imaging and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at City of Hope. “I think radiologists as a community would still like to see annual screening – biennial screening increases the number of cancers we miss. The whole point of screening is to catch the cancers early so we can treat patients early.” » Continue Reading

City of Hope helps build supportive care programs around the world

April 21, 2015 | by

Cancer patients need, and deserve, more than medical care. They and their families need high-quality supportive care – that is, care that addresses their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Health care professionals increasingly understand this, but starting such programs from scratch isn’t easy. That’s where City of Hope comes in.

supportive care

To provide truly superb supportive care, caregivers must address all the physical, mental and spiritual pieces of a patient’s life. Already experts in this type of supportive care, City of Hope caregivers are now training others around the world how to create their own programs.

An international pioneer in integrated care,  the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope provides a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and numerous other caregivers who work together to assess what cancer patients and their families need, and then fulfill those needs. Now, the department is teaching other hospitals and caregivers how to do the same.

In 2012 and 2013, the National Cancer Institute awarded two five-year grants – of $1.5 million and $1.6 million – to City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center to, essentially, help change the world of supportive care. The first grant was intended to fund the training of cancer health care and administrative professionals in how to build and enhance supportive care programs. The second grant was meant to train the same population of professionals in how to implement comprehensive biopsychosocial screening programs.

These training programs are now well underway. » Continue Reading

BMT reunion celebrates lives saved – on the frontiers of science

April 20, 2015 | by

Each year, City of Hope patients given another chance at life gather to pose for a picture like this one. Going on its 39th year, the celebration of patients free of blood cancers thanks to bone marrow or stem cell transplants has grown such that a photographer has to scale a cherry picker just to get them all in.

bone marrow transplant

City of Hope has performed over 12,000 hematopoietic cell transplants, and has the best outcomes in the nation. Here are some of our survivors at the 2014 BMT Reunion.

“Imagine this space if we didn’t have this program,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “There wouldn’t be any people. Just trees.”

Forman can remember when there was no such picture to take, when the first Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion consisted of a single patient and his donor – his brother. Since then, the event has expanded dramatically. Now, beloved Dodger baseball players offer their well-wishes to current patients and survivors, renowned musicians and comedians – cancer survivors themselves – perform for an empathetic audience, and patients meet their stem cell donors from across the globe.

The heart of the celebration is more than 6,500 patients and family members who celebrate their personal anniversaries, each wearing a button proudly proclaiming how long it’s been since their transplant, which ranges from months to decades. This year, the reunion is Friday, May 1. There – amid the cupcakes, barbecue, music and festive atmosphere for patients – physicians, nurses and other caregivers find the motivation that carries them to the next reunion. » Continue Reading

$6.8 million NCI grant will improve palliative care in clinical trials

April 18, 2015 | by
City of Hope's Betty Ferrell

City of Hope’s Betty Ferrell is testing a new palliative care model on patients in a phase I clinical trial.

Cancer patients who are participating in early-stage clinical trials need extra emotional and physical support due to their additional stress and often unique symptoms. Now an effort by researchers at City of Hope to create a model for such support has received a $6.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The grant will support work by City of Hope’s Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., and another institution to test a palliative care intervention program for cancer patients with a solid tumor who are also participating in a phase I clinical trial. The intervention aims to improve patients’ quality of life and symptoms and to promote the use of a hospital’s palliative care resources.
“The patients who are going on phase I clinical trials tend to be very sick,” said Ferrell, director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope and leader in the field of palliative care nursing and research. “Yet, they are volunteering to help us advance science by participating in our clinical trials and helping us advance treatments for the future. We want to make sure they are well-taken care of during the process and getting the best support possible.”

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Testicular cancer patient: ‘I didn’t feel like just a patient’

April 16, 2015 | by

“Honestly, there’s nothing special about my story,” protested Daniel Samson, as he bounced Layla, his 3 1/2-year-old daughter, on his lap and put on a video for her to watch. “I just want to tell it for my own sake, and share it with other men who may be going through this chaos.” Samson spoke in a slow, easy, earnest manner, displaying a constant smile, looking very much like someone truly grateful to be where he is.

Daniel Samson, testicular cancer patient

Testicular cancer patient Daniel Samson,  shown here with daughter, Layla, says the staff at City of Hope are “never too busy to talk to you, answer a question or help you.”

Grateful, because at 41, Samson’s been through the “chaos” twice.

A commercial photographer from Long Beach, Samson first developed testicular cancer in his mid 20s. That’s typical. Most of the roughly 8,400 men diagnosed each year are between the ages of 15 and 34. Samson was treated at a local hospital, getting surgery and chemotherapy. For a while, he believed he was cured.

But a decade later, the cancer returned. “The chemo didn’t do the job,” he believes.

Although the overall survival rate for testicular cancer approaches 96 percent, recurrences can and do happen, often in other parts of the body. Chronic lower back pain and difficulty sleeping sent Samson back to his doctors. Tests revealed cancer cells in the lymph nodes, plus a large abdominal tumor.

This time, Samson and his oncologist chose City of Hope because of its unique and renowned expertise in surgery and treatment for recurrent testicular cancer.

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Testicular cancer doctor: Jonathan Yamzon says patients ‘inspire me’

April 15, 2015 | by

As far back as he can remember, Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., wanted to be a doctor.

Prostate cancer expert Jonathan Yamzon

Testicular cancer expert Jonathan Yamzon says of his patients: “They inspire me. … It’s a privilege to usher and guide them on this journey.”

“I knew it from the get-go,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I always envisioned it as the ideal; the supreme thing one could do with one’s life.”

The youngest of six children, Yamzon was barely a toddler when his family moved to Los Angeles from the Philippines. He had plenty of hard-working role models. His mother and father were social workers. His siblings embodied the “aim high, don’t waste time” philosophy, pushing young Jonathan to seize every opportunity, starting on the first day of school.

He did, excelling at each step. Top grades at Bishop Amat High School. Honors society at UC San Diego, where he earned a bioengineering degree. Singled out for special scholarships at Keck School of Medicine of USC. A challenging residency at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center.

In 2010, he arrived  at City of Hope.

He doesn’t argue when folks call him “driven.” Exercise is his relaxation. He tackles challenging mountain bike trails: the tougher, the better. He speaks in the calm, quiet, rapid-fire, sometimes hypertechnical, here-are-all-the-facts manner befitting a professional who’s an expert in his field and totally devoted to his work.

Then there’s the side of this proud father of two (“and one on the way!” he adds) that unmistakably marks Yamzon as one of City of Hope’s best. Listen to the way he talks about his patients: » Continue Reading

Testicular cancer program’s goal: Return patients to normal life

April 14, 2015 | by

There’s never a “good” time for cancer to strike. With testicular cancer, the timing can seem particularly unfair. This disease targets young adults in the prime of life; otherwise healthy people unaccustomed to any serious illness, let alone cancer. And suddenly …

testicular cancer and fertility impact

The testicular cancer program at City of Hope is about more than tumor removal. It’s about getting young men back to their normal lives, with their fertility and health intact.

“I can only imagine what they must be thinking,” says Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., assistant clinical professor and surgeon in City of Hope’s Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology. Yamzon displays the genuine empathy that’s typical in every corner of City of Hope. He’s met and treated many testicular cancer patients, and he knows “how worried they must be, not only for themselves, but also for their young families, their small children.”

More than 8,400 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year. While rare, it is the most common cancer found in young men between the ages of 15 and 34. The good news is, if detected early, testicular cancer has an overall five-year survival rate of 96 percent. Treatment includes surgery to remove the testicle, and, if tests indicate remaining or spreading cancer cells, chemotherapy and radiation as needed. Even when the cancer has spread, the odds remain favorable.

When treating this younger population, the goal must be more than simply removing tumors. At City of Hope, the aim is to get the patient back to his normal life, preserving his fertility and longevity. » Continue Reading

National Healthcare Decisions Day: Start with 5 simple questions

April 12, 2015 | by
advance healthcare directive

Don’t make your health care team or loved ones guess what you want should you be unable to make a decision. On National Healthcare Decision Day, tell them — by making an advance health care directive.

Health care decisions are tough. They’re even tougher when you – or loved ones – have to make them without a plan or a conversation.

National Healthcare Decisions Day, on April 16,  is a nationwide initiative to demystify the health care decision-making process and encourage families to start talking. Ultimately, that talking should lead to an advance directive or agreement that will guide future plans and health care decisions should you be unable to make your wishes known.

It’s no coincidence that the annual observance lands the day after tax returns are due – it was inspired by Ben Franklin’s quote: “… in this world nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes.” National Healthcare Decisions Day gives you a reason to broach the conversation without the angst of why.

So if you haven’t outlined your wishes, now’s the time to start thinking, start a conversation and start mapping out a plan. » Continue Reading

Second opinion saves thyroid cancer patient’s voice

April 10, 2015 | by
Alex Camargo

Thyroid cancer patient Alex Camargo was told by a doctor elsewhere that he would need a total laryngectomy, which would have cost him the ability to speak. City of Hope surgeons, however, were able to save Camargo’s voice.

“Lucky” is not usually a term used to describe someone diagnosed with cancer.  But that’s how 34-year-old Alex Camargo’s doctor described him when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — the disease is one of the most treatable cancers at all stages.

That doctor was ultimately proved right, but not for the reasons he and Camargo initially thought.

Five-year survival outcomes for Stage 1 and 2 thyroid cancer are nearly 100 percent. Stage 3 has a 93 percent survival rate and Stage 4 has a 51 percent survival rate. “I was told that if I had to be diagnosed with cancer, this was the best cancer I could get, so I wasn’t scared,” Camargo said.

Then the Rialto, California, resident went to a cancer specialist to begin his treatment and discovered that his case wasn’t as simple as he had believed.

The cancer was starting to invade his trachea and larynx (more commonly known as the windpipe and voice box) and move into his lungs. In order to treat the cancer, his doctor told him, Camargo would need to undergo a total laryngectomy, which would leave him with a permanent breathing tube and no voice.

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