Palliative care should begin on Day 1 of cancer care

February 3, 2015 | by   

With more advanced cancer treatments and therapies saving lives every day, it’s safe to say cancer is “Not beyond us,” the official tagline for this year’s World Cancer Day.

palliative care

Palliative care is crucial in cancer – from Day 1 of treatment. Learn why.

This year’s World Cancer Day observance takes place on Wednesday, Feb. 4, and focuses on cancer prevention, detection and treatments. The awareness campaign highlights four key areas: healthy lifestyle, early detection, treatment for all and maximizing quality of life.

To explain the importance of quality of life, including pain management and palliative care, Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope, answers questions about how providers, caregivers and patients can maximize the quality of life for themselves and loved ones.

Why is it important to incorporate palliative care at Day 1 of cancer treatment?

Palliative care is intended to address quality of life concerns from the time of diagnosis. There is strong recognition that attending to symptoms and psychosocial concerns and focusing on goals of care for each patient is vital throughout the course of the disease.

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Does the environment increase our cancer risk? If so, how much?

February 2, 2015 | by   

Does our environment increase our risk of cancer? What about plastic bottles, radiation, chemicals, soy products …? Do they cause cancer?

With so many cancer fears, rumors and downright urban legends circulating among our friends and colleagues, not to mention in the media and blogosphere, why not ask the experts? They can debunk cancer myths while sharing cancer facts that matter such as risk factors, prevention and the research underway at City of Hope.

Join us Feb. 19 in Corona, California,  for Ask the Experts “Cancer Urban Legends: The Environment” and hear from physician and research experts as they discuss cancer and the environment, explaining the underlying facts of how the environment can affect our health. » Continue Reading

Observe World Cancer Day by reducing your cancer risk. Here’s how:

February 2, 2015 | by   

With this week’s World Cancer Day challenging us to think about cancer on a global scale, we should also keep in mind that daily choices affect cancer risk on an individual scale. Simply put, lifestyle changes and everyday actions can reduce your cancer risk and perhaps prevent some cancers.

cancer risk reduction

Choosing healthy foods, exercise and other healthy habits are essential to cancer risk reduction.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through reduced alcohol consumption, healthier diets and improved physical activity levels. If smoking were also eliminated, that number could jump to as many as half of all common cancers.

Here are a few suggestions. Truly, they’re not that difficult. Give them a try this week to mark World Cancer Day, Feb. 4, Try them the next week too. And the week after that …

In a word, exercise. Simple exercise benefits everyone, and even a little helps. Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., professor and director of the Division of Cancer Etiology at City of Hope, recommends a 45-minute walk five days a week. While that is ideal, her research has found that, for some people, even 30 minutes per week can make a difference. The benefit of exercise applies for people of all weights and fitness levels.

The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise each week, preferably spread throughout the week. Don’t deny yourself the benefits just because you don’t have a large block of time or can’t get into the gym for a more formal workout. » Continue Reading

Precision medicine isn’t science fiction; access shouldn’t be either

January 30, 2015 | by   

If you haven’t heard the term “precision medicine,” you will. If you don’t have an opinion about access to it, you will.

precision medicine

Precision medicine is expected to grow by leaps and bounds with the recently announced Precision Medicine Initiative. Now we must ensure that all cancer patients have access to the breakthrough therapies that result.

On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled details of the Precision Medicine Initiative, an effort intended to accelerate cancer research in a powerful way, giving doctors new knowledge and new therapies to help them better treat individual patients much more effectively than is generally currently possible.

The specific goal of the $215 million plan is the creation of more targeted treatments for individual patients, not general-approach therapies that doctors then try to modify to the best of their abilities. As the White House said in a briefing:

“Most medical treatments have been designed for the ‘average patient.’ As a result of this ‘one-size-fits-all-approach,’ treatments can be very successful for some patients but not for others. This is changing with the emergence of precision medicine, an innovative approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyles. Precision medicine gives clinicians tools to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying a patient’s health, disease or condition, and to better predict which treatments will be most effective.”

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CIRM grant will ease bottleneck in stem cell research

January 30, 2015 | by   

The lack of a practical way to produce and store enough stem cells for larger-scale therapies and clinical trials is creating a bottleneck in stem cell research. A new grant to City of Hope from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) will help solve that problem.

stem cell

New CIRM grant will allow City of Hope to develop technology to allow for large-scale production of stem cells, erasing a bottleneck currently hampering progress in clinical trials and treatments.

The $899,728 grant, awarded Thursday to City of Hope researchers, will enable researchers to adapt current cell culture techniques to a more scalable and controllable system that reflects Good Manufacturing Practices.

Existing cell production methods allow for pluripotent stem cells and progenitor cells, but these methods simply can’t be scaled up, from a practical perspective, to the level necessary for clinical trials and for some of the stem cell products expected to be in high demand. For example, cardiomyocytes – heart muscle cells – derived from stem cells show promise as a treatment for heart failure, which is occurring at epidemic rates. However, large doses of these cells would be required for sufficient therapeutic use, and current production practices don’t support that type of increase. » Continue Reading

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

Destroying brain tumors with nanoparticles

January 29, 2015 | by   

Despite advances in surgery, radiation and drug therapy, brain tumors remain particularly challenging to treat. This is due to the tumor’s location, which can limit localized therapies’ effectiveness, and the blood-brain barrier, which blocks many cancer-fighting drugs’ passage from the bloodstream to the tumor site.

Carbon Nanotube Animation

Carbon nanotubes hold potential as cancer drug delivery vehicles due to their small size and their ability to accumulate at tumor sites (Image credit: Saperaud/Wikimedia Commons)

City of Hope scientists are currently researching a new method that can overcome these barriers, using nanoparticles that can activate the immune system to attack tumor cells in the brain.

Within these nanoparticles are CpG, small snippets of DNA molecules that can stimulate a localized immune response. The problem with CpG is that, when the snippets are administered on their own, they can disperse throughout the body, prompting immune cells to attack healthy tissues as well.

To address this issue, researchers Behnam Badie, M.D., director of the Brain Tumor Program and Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, came up with the idea of packaging CpGs within carbon nanotubes (CNT), small structures that resemble a bacteria or virus in size. Because their structure mimics those of invasive microorganisms, they should be rapidly taken up by immune cells in the injection site, localizing their attack response.

In animal studies, Badie and Berlin have shown this is the case, and those injected with CNT-CpG had significantly better outcomes than the CpG-only and control groups. In their three-month measurement period, 60 percent of the CNT-CpG group survived versus 0 percent of the other two groups.

Further, the CNT-CpG group also remained tumor-free when injected with new brain tumor cells after the initial treatment, showing that this therapy can provide long-term anti-tumor immunity.

Given the promising results of this novel therapy, Badie and Berlin are working with the Food and Drug Administration to develop the criteria for a phase I trial using CNT-CpG and hope to begin an in-human study in the near future.

Learn more about this research or about our Brain Tumor Program.


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.

Blood and urine tests could identify lung cancer mutation without biopsy

January 27, 2015 | by   

As treatments for lung cancer become more targeted and effective, the need for better technology to detect lung cancer mutations becomes increasingly important. A new clinical study at City of Hope is examining the feasibility of using blood and urine tests to detect lung cancer mutations, potentially allowing for targeted cancer treatments without an invasive biopsy.

cancer mutation

A new clinical trial at City of Hope will assess the ability of blood and urine tests to identify non-small cell lung cancer mutation without a biopsy.

The trial, a collaboration with Trovagene Inc., focuses specifically on mutations that make EGFR proteins (for epidermal growth factor receptor) grow and divide faster than they should. The protein is normally found on the surface of cells, but nonsmall cell lung cancer cells can have too much of this protein.

Sometimes, a patient can require two procedures to obtain an adequate biopsy that determines the presence of EGFR mutation. In this first clinical study, patients who have been biopsied will also get specific blood and urine tests to determine if those tests are as effective as a traditional biopsy to determine an EGFR mutation.

“Tracking various alterations in the EGFR oncogene has potential to improve therapeutic strategies for treating patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer,” said Mihaela Cristea, M.D., lead investigator and associate professor in City of Hope’s Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program. “We look forward to evaluating Trovagene’s molecular diagnostics for the monitoring of circulating tumor DNA found in both urine and blood, with the goal of delivering highly personalized cancer treatment to improve patient outcomes.” » Continue Reading