Patient Care

Garden of Hope: Here, healing takes place indoors and outdoors

January 30, 2015 | by

City of Hope has long known what researchers increasingly are confirming: Gardens and natural surroundings help seriously ill people recover from their treatment ordeals.

Garden of Hope

The Argyros Family Garden of Hope was made possible by the support of the Argyros Family Foundation, led by former U.S. Ambassador to Spain George Argyros and his wife, Julia.

Already a trailblazer in the creation of beautiful natural spaces for cancer patients and their families, on Jan. 15,  City of Hope dedicated the newest in a series of healing landscapes: the Argyros Family Garden of Hope.

Supported by the Argyros Family Foundation – led by former U.S. Ambassador to Spain George Argyros and his wife, Julia – the garden provides a natural space of light, water, trees and native plants designed to encourage emotional, mental and physical healing.

Strategically positioned between City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital, where patients undergo treatment, and Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, where researchers work to find cures, the Argyros Family Garden of Hope provides patients with easily accessible places to walk and to rest – complete with new and mature trees, gurgling fountains and the soothing use of sand and rock – all artfully integrated into an intimate Southern California vignette. » Continue Reading

How is a breast cancer metastasis like an alien invader?

January 29, 2015 | by

We’ve seen it in science fiction: The aliens begin terra-forming a planet to create a friendly habitat that gives them, not the inhabitants, all the advantages when the colonization begins.

Aliens and breast cancer cells

Breast cancer metastasis is like an alien invader: It can remake an environment to benefit its kind, not the native cells.

Turns out, cancer does essentially the same thing when it metastasizes, according to new research from City of Hope. The findings, in which glucose plays a crucial role, were published online by Nature Cell Biology.

“Cancer cells have a sweet tooth,” said S. Emily Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at City of Hope and the study’s principal investigator. “They are addicted to glucose.”

That’s the sugar that fuels their growth, and ensuring an unlimited supply of that fuel is how the terra-forming begins.  » Continue Reading

To turn T cells into cancer fighters, start with bacteria (w/VIDEO)

January 28, 2015 | by

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.

t cells

City of Hope scientists are studying T cells, and how they can be reprogrammed to recognize cancer markers and attack cancer cells.

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.

Insulin and breast cancer risk? Connection may be stronger than weight

January 26, 2015 | by

When it comes to breast cancer risk, insulin levels may matter more than weight, new research has found.

Breast cancer risk

New study indicates that insulin levels are more closely tied than weight to breast cancer risk.

The study from Imperial College London School of Public Health, published in the journal Cancer Research, indicates that metabolic health – not a person’s weight or body mass index – increases breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Although high insulin levels frequently occur in women who are overweight or obese, women at normal weights may have unhealthly insulin levels, as well, putting them at a perhaps unexpected increase in breast cancer risk. Likewise, some obese women may have normal levels of the hormone.

The study of insulin and breast cancer risk included 3,300 women without diabetes, 497 of whom developed breast cancer during the study’s eight years. The study analyzed weight, fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that aids in using digested food for energy. An inability to produce insulin or use it properly leads to diabetes. Insulin resistance occurs when the body is unable to use insulin efficiently, resulting in hyperglycemia. The condition is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes. » Continue Reading

Triple-negative breast cancer patient Homa Sadat: What I learned

January 23, 2015 | by

No one ever plans to have cancer – and there’s never a good time. For Homa Sadat, her cancer came at a particularly bad time: just one year after losing her father to the pancreatic cancer he had battled for two years.

triple negative breast cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer patient Homa Sadat, now 30, has some advice for others. Tip 1: Don’t think negatively.

She was working a grueling schedule managing three commercial office buildings. She’d just started dating someone very promising – and her family was still mourning her father.

Sadat, now 30, was 27 when she first found a lump in her breast. She called it to her doctor’s attention, but her concerns were dismissed. She couldn’t have cancer, her doctor said. She was too young. Six months later, a shooting pain prompted her to insist on a biopsy that found breast cancer. Specifically, she had triple-negative breast cancer – the hardest type to treat, because it doesn’t respond to any current targeted therapies.

Sadat considered other caregivers, but ultimately chose the Breast Cancer Program at City of Hope because of her confidence in her oncologist, George Somlo, M.D., professor in the departments of Medical Oncology and Therapeutics Research and Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. One of Somlo’s areas of research interest is triple-negative breast cancer. Sadat volunteered for a Phase II clinical trial that combined carboplatin and a novel nano-particle drug called nab-paclitaxel. The trial called for her to undergo 16 weeks of chemotherapy before having surgery to address her cancer.

Halfway through chemotherapy regimen, she had a extremely welcome surprise.

“I went in for an ultrasound-guided biopsy, and they said there’s nothing to biopsy,” Sadat said. “They couldn’t find the tumor.” » Continue Reading

Now is a good time to donate blood – and give the gift of life

January 22, 2015 | by

Patients at City of Hope – most of whom are fighting cancer – rely on more than 37,000 units of blood and platelets each year for their treatment and survival.

Donate blood

January is National Blood Donor Month. Donate blood to a cancer patient in need.

Every one of those units comes from family, friends or someone who traded an hour or so of their time and a pint of their blood to save lives. Science has yet to develop a replacement for human blood. January is National Blood Donor Month, and a good time to schedule a blood or platelet donation.

Cancer patients need transfusions for many reasons. Those with leukemia or other blood cancers may have low red or white blood cell counts, as cancer crowds out the normal blood-making cells in their bodies. Patients who have had cancer for a long time may develop anemia. The kidneys or spleen, if affected by the cancer, may not be able to keep enough healthy cells in the bloodstream.

Cancer treatments can lead to blood loss and create need for red blood cell or platelet transfusions. Many therapies also affect the bone marrow, leading to low blood counts. Patients who receive bone marrow or stem cell transplants have endured large doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Their blood-making cells are destroyed as part of their treatment, and often need transfusions following their transplant. » Continue Reading

Surgery for advanced colorectal cancer? Each patient’s needs are unique

January 21, 2015 | by

Surgery is vital in the treatment of cancer – it’s used to help diagnose, treat and even prevent the disease – so a new colorectal cancer study linking a decrease in surgeries for advanced cancer to increased survival rates may raise more questions than it answers for some patients.

advance colorectal cancer surgery

Treatment options for advanced colorectal cancer depend on the unique needs of each patient. The decision needs to individualized, said Stephen Sentovich, a board-certified colon and rectal cancer surgical expert at City of Hope.

The surgery-and-survival study, conducted by researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center and published recently in JAMA Surgery, found that although surgery is still the most-used treatment for Stage 4 colorectal cancer, it has become less common. Surgical rates decreased from 74.5 percent in 1988 to 57.4 percent in 2010, with survival rates doubling from 8.6 percent in 1988 to 17.8 percent in 2009.

The trend reflects a greater use of new chemotherapy drugs and targeted treatment options and highlights the overall improvements made in the treatment of colorectal cancer. But Stephen Sentovich, M.D., M.B.A., a board-certified colon and rectal cancer surgical expert at City of Hope, cautions against making broad assumptions about the best treatment options.

Treatment choices aren’t always black and white, he says. Decisions needs to be individualized, based on the unique needs of each patient. » Continue Reading

Geriatric oncology nurse Peggy Burhenn: Older adults need special care

January 20, 2015 | by

Age is the single greatest risk factor overall for cancer; our chances of developing the disease rise steeply after age 50. For geriatric oncology nurse Peggy Burhenn, the meaning is clear: Cancer is primarily a geriatric condition. That’s why she is forging inroads in the care of older adults with cancer.

Nurse Peggy Burhenn

Geriatric oncology nurse Peggy Burhenn at City of Hope, has received the 2014 Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse of the Year Award.

Burhenn, M.S., C.N.S., A.O.C.N.S., is a professional practice leader in geriatric oncology in the Department of Clinical Practice and Professional Education at City of Hope. She focuses on the needs of older adults with cancer, researching better treatments for them and teaching other clinicians the best approach to caring for this important population.

Her innovative work and excellence in clinical care recently earned her the Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse of the Year Award from the Greater Los Angeles Oncology Nursing Society. The honor adds to a list of accolades and achievements that includes the Margo McCaffery Excellence in Pain Management Award and leadership roles on the National Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Older Adult Oncology Expert Panel and the International Society for Geriatric Oncology.

Burhenn earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She joined City of Hope in 2011 after nearly a decade as a nurse educator in the biotechnology industry and as a nurse oncologist at a private hematology-oncology practice. She said her work with older patients began early in her career, sparked to some degree by her own parents’ experience with aging. » Continue Reading

Sportscaster Stuart Scott’s young age is reminder: Check family history

January 19, 2015 | by
Stuart Scott

ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott’s cancer diagnosis is a reminder to check family history. (Photo by Alan Rose)

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.

» Continue Reading

Make these 5 healthy resolutions for 2015. (No, it isn’t too late)

January 13, 2015 | by

Don’t kid yourself. Just because it’s mid-January doesn’t mean it’s too late to make resolutions for a happier, and healthier, 2015. Just consider them resolutions that are more mature than those giddy, sometimes self-deluded, Jan. 1 resolutions.

healthy resolutions list

Don’t wait until next Jan. 1 to make some healthy resolutions.

To that end, we share some advice from Cary A. Presant, M.D., an assistant clinical professor and hematologist at City of Hope.

  • Get health insurance.
  • Check if your doctor is the right doctor for you.
  • Start your own home medical record.
  • Decide now about making your advance medical directives.
  • Recognize your unhealthy habits and take a first step today to correct them.

This is sage guidance. To get the details and the rationale for each recommendation, check out the full column at Huffington Post. » Continue Reading