Breast cancer spreads to brain by masquerading as neurons, study finds

January 9, 2014 | by   

Often, several years can pass between the time a breast cancer patient successfully goes into remission and a related brain tumor develops. During that time, the breast cancer cells somehow hide, escaping detection as they grow and develop. Now City of Hope researchers have found out how.

New City of Hope research uncovers how breast cancer cells evade the immune system and become brain tumors: By masquerading as neurons.

New City of Hope research has uncovered how breast cancer cells evade the immune system and become brain tumors: by masquerading as neurons.

Breast cancer cells disguise themselves as neurons,  becoming “cellular chameleons,” the scientists found. This allows them to slip undetected into the brain and, from there, develop into tumors.

The discovery is being heralded as “a tremendous advance in breast cancer research.”

Although breast cancer is a very curable disease – with more than 95 percent of women with early-stage disease surviving after five years – breast cancer that metastasizes to the brain is difficult to fight. In fact, only about 20 percent of patients survive a year after diagnosis.

“There remains a paucity of public awareness about cancer’s relentless endgame,” said Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., a City of Hope neurosurgeon who headed the breast-cancer-and-brain-tumor study, published online ahead of print this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Cancer kills by spreading. In fact, 90 percent of all cancer mortality is from metastasis,” Jandial said. “The most dreaded location for cancer to spread is the brain. As we have become better at keeping cancer at bay with drugs such as Herceptin, women are fortunately living longer. In this hard-fought life extension, brain metastases are being unmasked as the next battleground for extending the lives of women with breast cancer.” » Continue Reading

Wellness Wednesday: Get motivated to move more. Here’s how

January 8, 2014 | by   

As the calendar flipped to a new year, many of us made well-meaning promises to exercise more – and to really mean it this year. Chances are those promises will be forgotten before we’re used to writing 2014 on our checks.

Wellness Wednesday: Get moving

Exercise more. It’s easier than you think.

Moving more is all about motivation. Looking better, feeling better, fitting into smaller jeans, running a race faster, keeping up with kids, increasing energy – all are common motivations, and good ones. An even better one: Regular exercise can reduce your risk of cancer and diabetes.

Making the commitment to enough exercise to reduce the risk of these diseases will barely cut into your schedule. Past studies suggest that even three 10-minute sessions of cycling with 10 to 20 second bursts of high-intensity sprints can reduce diabetes risk. The American Diabetes Association recommends moderate-intensity exercise – such as a brisk walk – 30 minutes a day, five days a week to minimize risk.

Researchers are still assessing the type and intensity of exercise most beneficial for cancer risk reduction, but it’s likely to be fairly modest based on the studies that are available. For example, for best reduction in breast cancer risk, women should exercise three to four hours per week – about 25 to 35 minutes per day, according to Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., director of the Division of Etiology at City of Hope. The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity weekly, preferably spread throughout the week.

Tips for getting started: » Continue Reading

Diabetes research: From epigenetics to islet cell transplants

January 5, 2014 | by   

Nearly 350 million people worldwide are coping with diabetes, and the disease is expected to be the seventh-leading cause of death by 2030. Aware of these grim statistics, researchers at City of Hope are committed to halting the global epidemic.

Islet cells produce insulin

Researchers at City of Hope are working on multiple fronts to make islet transplantation a viable option for patients.

On the frontiers of epigenetic engineering

Art Riggs, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research, is focused on the possibilities within the field of epigenetics. A concept pioneered by Riggs, epigenetics refers to stable changes in gene expression, some of which can be passed on to future generations — but are not written into our genetic code.

Riggs is currently studying epigenetic engineering, the process of making epigenetic changes in stem or progenitor cells to impact how those cells differentiate, grow and mature. Riggs is collaborating with researchers throughout City of Hope’s Diabetes Research Center to find ways to use epigenetic engineering to increase the supply of beta cells for islet transplantation, and to improve regulatory T cells to reverse autoimmunity. » Continue Reading

Resolve to pursue fitness beyond January by following these tips

January 3, 2014 | by   

Don’t panic. Start small. Increase gradually. Have fun. Eat real food. Listen to your body. Love your body.

Jeanette DePatie, aka The Fat Chick, a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer, offers tips and advice for making fitness resolutions stick.

Jeanette DePatie, aka The Fat Chick, a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer, offers tips and advice for making fitness resolutions stick.

Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer who goes by The Fat Chick, recently offered that advice via TweetChat to people considering their fitness goals for 2014.

Every year, many people vow to lose weight or start exercising more. These are worthy goals – as both have been linked with reduced risk of cancer and diabetes. However, many people give up these resolutions by mid-January, returning to the couch and the drive-thru.

It doesn’t have to be that way, DePatie says. Here’s some of the changes-for-the-long-term advice she and other participants shared in our recent TweetChat.

  • It can be scary at first, but the key is to start GENTLY. You can always ramp up. Start with a few minutes and see. @fatchicksings
  • Find an activity (or better yet, a few!) you enjoy & do them. (personally, I’m into urbanhikes, rollerblading & yoga) @foodie_fitness
  • Good idea to make sure you have charged cell phone for walk. And walk short loops until you’re comfortable with your fitness level. @fatchicksings
  • Set some goals and write them down. Then talk to loved ones about them & ask for support. It’s much easier to accomplish w/help. @rxwiki
  • Getting fit does not have to be hard or expensive. You can also use a pedometer (like the one I got from COH) to count steps. @fatchicksings
  • According to the National Weight Control Registry (the largest prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance), 94 percent of participants increased their physical activity. The most common activity reported is walking. @cityofhope
  • Opt for healthier food choices rather than substitutions (i.e. instead of sugar/fat substitutes, try using less of regular stuff). @foodie_fitness
  • Change is more effective and works better when you start by liking yourself. @fatchicksings
  • Spot reducing is a myth. You can use spot exercises to strength, but won’t make that spot smaller. @fatchicksings
  • Key term here is LONG TERM. That’s what we want. These life changes are not just two weeks in January. @fatchicksings

For more tips, questions and answers, view the full chat here.



New Year’s resolutions: Tips on eating better, exercising more

January 1, 2014 | by   

Along with the midnight toast and the Times Square ball drop, New Year’s resolutions are an annual tradition at the changing of the year. But for many who’ve resolved to lead a healthier life in 2014 through mindful eating and regular exercising, sticking with these promises for the rest of year — and beyond — is another matter.

When making New Year's resolutions, stick with steady, incremental improvements in your diet and physical activity rather than one drastic change, experts say.

When making New Year’s resolutions, stick with steady, incremental improvements in your diet and physical activity rather than one drastic change, experts say.

Drastic changes, like going on a diet that eliminates entire food categories or suddenly engaging in rigorous exercise routines, can backfire, according to Peggy Mancini, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at City of Hope, and Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness instructor who calls herself “The Fat Chick.” Not only are these changes difficult to stick with, they can be downright harmful, these experts say.

“Really long and intense workouts after being sedentary for a while … are a recipe for pain and injury. That is why the sports medicine guys are so busy in February,” DePatie says.

“Any diet that restricts a food group results in a loss of nutrients unique to that group. The lost weight is unlikely to be kept off if it’s not an eating plan you can stick with,” she says.

Instead, Mancini and DePatie offer these tips to resolution-makers so they can keep their promises for better health this year: » Continue Reading

A simple act in Rhode Island, a lifesaving transplant in Duarte

January 1, 2014 | by   

Stem cell donations are usually an anonymous gift, with people who want to help others donating their lifesaving cells simply from the rightness and joy of being able to save another human being. The donor and the recipient almost never meet – except in special circumstances. On the morning of Jan. 1, 2014, at the 125th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., those special circumstances were in place. Former City of Hope patient Ben Teller met the woman who saved him from Hodgkin lymphoma: Nancy Haag.

Teller had previously spoken of his journey through the disease and transplant process, but Haag’s experience has not been shared publicly. This is her story.


Nancy Haag was attending a community fair with her family near their Newport, R.I., home in 1995, when she saw a booth for the national bone marrow donor registry.

Nancy Haag

Stem cell donor Nancy Haag, right, signed up for a bone marrow registry almost two decades ago. Finally, she got the call – and saved a young man’s life. Haag is shown here with her children, from left, Lindsay, Devon, Kelsey, Jill, Tre and Julie, and her husband, Gene.

On an impulse, she signed up.

Unlike today’s method of swabbing the inside cheek of a prospective enrollee, organizers collected a sample of her blood that day. “I remember having that big wad of gauze on me, and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Who knows, maybe they’ll call me.’”

Seventeen years later, in August 2012, they did.

By that time, Haag was a 47-year-old preschool teacher and mother of six who was living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The call came during the “crazy-busy” week before her eldest daughter was getting married.

The Connecticut Be the Match office that had organized the Rhode Island donation drive nearly two decades before was calling to let her know she was a potential match, and to ask if she would undergo more thorough testing to confirm her compatibility. Haag learned only that the patient was a male in his early 20s, and had Hodgkin lymphoma.

“I just started thinking about the fact that my daughter and my son were about that age, and certainly, I would do whatever I needed to do for this young man to have a chance.”

Haag already knew about the ravages of Hodgkin lymphoma. When a dear friend and mother of a little boy in her preschool class was diagnosed with the disease years before, “I went through the journey with her,” Haag said. The friend survived chemotherapy and an autologous transplant, in which her stem cells were purified and infused back into her.

In the frenzied days before the wedding, Haag took time to have her doctor draw vials of her blood, then, meticulously following “really explicit directions,” she FedEx-ed her specimens back in a specially designed box packed with blocks of ice.

“I was still thinking they’re probably looking at 10 different people and there’s no way it will be me,” Haag recalled.

» Continue Reading

Cervical cancer: Much progress, still too many diagnoses

January 1, 2014 | by   

Cervical cancer was once one of the most-common causes of cancer death for women in the United States. Now, with better screening techniques, targeted treatments and vaccinations, the death rate has declined dramatically.

HPV vaccine

January has been deemed National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time to reflect on how much progress has been made against the disease, and how much more needs to be done.

“The diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancers have changed markedly in the past 10 years,” said Robert J. Morgan, M.D., co-director of the gynecological cancers program at City of Hope. “The addition of chemotherapy to radiation in locally advanced cervical cancer in the early part of this century added significantly to the long-term, disease-free survivals in this illness.”

Discovering the connection between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer was also groundbreaking, allowing for vaccination to lower the risk of cancer. “This discovery has increased our understanding of the pathogenesis of this illness and has allowed the development of very effective vaccines that can prevent the illness from occurring,” Morgan said.

This milestone is especially notable during January, which Congress has deemed Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Most people will acquire the HPV infection at some point in their lives, but their immune systems will usually eliminate the virus, Morgan said. The risk of developing cervical cancer, however, rises with exposure to the HPV strains that can cause the disease.

» Continue Reading

Yearly mammograms can lower risk of breast cancer spread

December 31, 2013 | by   

Preventive mammogram guidelines have long been a hot topic for debate.

Medical professionals and health care organizations are divided on how often a woman should be screened and at what age a woman should start preventive screening.

A new study found that women who have preventive mammograms every 12 to 18 months had a lower risk of cancer spreading to the lymph nodes.

A new study reaffirms women should be receiving mammograms starting at age 40 and continuing to receive them every year.

Health care organizations such as the American Cancer Society recommend annual mammograms for women beginning at age 40. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women be screened every two years starting at age 50.

A new study, however, found that women who had mammograms every 12 to 18 months lowered the risk that cancer would spread to the lymph nodes.

“[The new study] adds more power behind the fact that we do need screening mammograms starting at age 40 and every year,” said Laura Kruper, M.D., director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center at City of Hope, in an interview with HealthDay.

» Continue Reading

Rose Parade float: Ben Teller’s dreams can now become reality

December 30, 2013 | by   
Lymphoma survivor Ben Teller learned that as an inpatient, you should never hesitate to seek your nurses' help. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Ben Teller)

Ben Teller’s dreams were made possible through a lifesaving stem cell transplant. His dream to meet the stem cell donor who saved him will come true at the Rose Parade. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Ben Teller)

For those who have battled cancer, each tomorrow is, in reality, a dream come true. On Jan. 1,  former City of Hope patients will see another dream come true: They’ll be riding atop City of Hope’s float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade.

The theme of this year’s float is “Turning Hope and Dreams into Reality”; the theme of the parade is “Dreams Come True.” Here is the story of one rider: Ben Teller, who will meet the person who saved his life on New Year’s Day.



Dreams – when one is a child – often get taken for granted. They are often bedtime stories parents tell their children in a land where anything is possible. That’s who I was pre-cancer, young, naive and full of dreams of college, friends, exciting careers and independence. That all changed in 2007, when I wasn’t able to attend college with my peers; then again in 2010, when we were first introduced to City of Hope.

They saved my life through three reoccurrences until I was proclaimed cancer free on April 29 of this 2014 year.

When I relapsed in 2010 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I needed a stem cell transplant, which required me to find a new doctor and a new hospital. I happen to live in the vicinity of many fine hospitals, so I had plenty of choices. My family and I visited and explored many of these hospitals and nothing compared to our experience upon entering City of Hope. By the time we walked through the doors of City of Hope, we were exhausted, drowning in an emotional vacuum of doubt. But from the moment I entered the doors of City of Hope, I felt like a person again.

Certainly, as I sat with my doctor (Stephen Forman) and we discussed my diagnosis, cancer treatments and lots of other scary stuff, I felt overwhelmed. But, somehow he made cancer feel like the smallest part of the conversation and our relationship. Somehow, after one meeting with my City of Hope treatment team, I felt like they knew more about me–- the person and what I cared about and hoped for – than I would have thought possible.

They not only looked after the difficult task of healing my cancer, they looked after the parts of me that needed to be tended to – in the here and now – to allow the real healing to begin. Parts of me like my spirit, my sense of humor, my interests, my hopes and my desires. All these necessary components that make me who I am, which DID need to be known to help me get through the actual treatment of cancer so I could feel like a life after cancer was possible.

» Continue Reading

New Year’s resolutions: Tips on how to quit smoking

December 30, 2013 | by   
Smoking Tips

Quitting smoking may be hard, but it’s not impossible. City of Hope smoking-cessation experts offer tips on how to kick the habit for good.

The new year is fast approaching, and with nearly 70 percent of adult smokers wanting to kick the habit, many people are likely to make the resolution to give up cigarettes for good in 2014.

That’s great — tobacco is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States and over half of smokers reaching middle age will die of a smoking-related illness. Further, it’s never too late to quit. Quitting smoking is beneficial at any age, and smokers who quit before age 35 have mortality rates similar to people who never smoked, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But quitting is easier said than done. Many smokers try to quit multiple times before succeeding, and less than 5 percent are able to quit cold turkey.

That’s not to say quitting is impossible. Just ask Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation and smoking cessation at City of Hope, and Rachel Dunham, M.S.N., nurse practitioner for smoking cessation and lung cancer screening.

» Continue Reading