LATEST POSTS

Spine tumors: 4 things you need to know

February 23, 2015 | by   
spinal cord tumors

The spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Because spine tumors can interfere with the body’s ability to function normally, early detection is crucial.

The spinal cord is an integral part of the human body, connecting the brain to everything else. So when a tumor grows on the spine, any messages that the brain tries to send to the rest of the body are interrupted, making everyday tasks — such as walking — more difficult.

This year an estimated 22,850 people will be diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the brain or spinal cord in the United States, and nearly 15, 320 people will die from these tumors. That number doesn’t include tumors that have spread to the spine from other parts of the body.

These numbers may seem alarming, but an increased use of diagnostic imaging has led to improved detection of spine tumors, making them more treatable than ever before.

Here, neurosurgeon and scientist Mike Chen, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in City of Hope’s Brain Tumor Program, presents a fuller picture of spine tumors, explaining what everyone needs to know, especially former cancer patients. » Continue Reading

Meet our doctors: Jonathan Cotliar on graft-versus-host disease

February 21, 2015 | by   

Each year, thousands of patients with hematologic malignancies undergo allogeneic stem cell transplantation (that is, they receive a donor’s stem cells), offering them a chance at cure. Graft-versus-host disease is a potentially deadly complication of this therapy and occurs in approximately 25 to 60 percent of patients. Clinicians and researchers are continually working to reduce the rate of the disease’s occurrence and improve outcomes for patients who develop it.

Graft-versus-host disease

Jonathan Cotliar says earlier intervention is the key to effective treatment for graft-versus-host disease.

Here Jonathan Cotliar, M.D., associate clinical professor in dermatology at City of Hope, sorts out the facts about graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). He also describes how the institution’s world-class multidisciplinary team of experts excels in treating this complicated disease and how doctors work continuously to better understand and more effectively treat it.

What is GVHD and who is most at risk?

GVHD is, unfortunately, a common complication following allogeneic bone marrow transplant. In GVHD, a component of the donated bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells views the recipient’s body as foreign and mounts an immune response directed at the transplant recipient, similar to the immune response that might be triggered by a bacterial or viral infection. GVHD can vary in severity, and different parts of the body can be affected either in isolation or in combination with other organ systems. » Continue Reading

Cancer Insights: The benefits of surgery for aggressive prostate cancer

February 20, 2015 | by   

Bertram Yuh, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology at City of Hope, offers his perspective on the benefits of surgery for aggressive prostate cancer.

For men walking out of the doctor’s office after a diagnosis of cancer, the reality can hit like a ton of bricks. The words echo: “Prostate cancer” … “Aggressive prostate cancer.” The initial feelings of grief, denial and anger are mixed with many thoughts: How much time do I have left? What else do I want to accomplish? What about my family, job and retirement plans?

Prostate cancer expert Bertram Yuh

Bertram Yuh, a urological oncology surgeon at City of Hope, explains the benefits of surgery for aggressive prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men – and the second-leading cause of cancer death – and a diagnosis of aggressive disease is often life-changing. As a urological oncology expert, I see men face the ups and downs of their diagnosis.

Although slow-growing cancers take decades to cause serious problems, fast-growing, or high-risk, cancer has the potential to quickly spread to other parts of the body. These tumors occur in up to 25 percent of men with prostate cancer, encompassing cancers of high Gleason grade, high levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) or extremely abnormal prostates on physical exam.

Even if tests indicate that the cancer is only in the prostate, the prospect of cancer spreading or leading to death is anxiety-provoking and intimidating. Once men are able to reach the acceptance phase, the primary question becomes: What are my treatment options?

At City of Hope, our multidisciplinary team manages aggressive prostate cancer and the circumstances in which men need multiple forms of treatment. We not only have a proven track record in surgery for high-risk cancer, we also provide extended lymph node dissection, which offers extremely accurate assessment of the cancer’s spread. » Continue Reading

New screening panel could target BRCA mutations common to Hispanic women

February 19, 2015 | by   

Although many Hispanic women face a high risk of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – increasing their risk of breast and ovarian cancer – screenings for these mutations can be prohibitively expensive in Mexico and other Latin American countries. As a result, too many women don’t get the information they need to make informed health choices.

BRCA gene mutations in Hispanic women

Many Hispanic women carry specific mutations in the BRCA genes. Now City of Hope researchers have developed a panel that could  spot  these BRCA mutations, helping them make more informed decisions.

City of Hope researchers may have found a solution to this problem: testing for the specific mutations most common in women of Hispanic descent.

In findings reported in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers reported that they were able to detect 68 percent of all BRCA mutations in a recent study’s participants by using a HISPANEL – a test panel developed by Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., director of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics at City of Hope. Further, by focusing on these specific mutations, rather than the full range of all possible BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, the cost of testing amounted to only 2 percent of the cost of testing for all BRCA mutations. » Continue Reading

Need lung cancer screening? Medicare will pay for some beneficiaries

February 18, 2015 | by   

Providing lung cancer treatments to patients when their cancer is at its earliest and most treatable stages will now be a more attainable goal: Medicare has agreed to cover lung cancer screening for those beneficiaries who meet the requirements.

lung cancer screening

Medicare will now cover annual lung cancer screening for seniors who qualify using low-dose CT scans.

The only proven way to detect lung cancer early enough to save lives is through low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening. One of the largest randomized, controlled clinical trials in the National Cancer Institute’s history showed that this screening could reduce lung cancer mortality rates by at least 20 percent. This is a significant reduction; lung cancer currently has a five-year survival rate of 17 percent. For people diagnosed at advanced stages, survival rates are less than 4 percent.

“Finally, seniors who are at high risk for lung cancer can undergo screening without the barrier of out-of-pocket costs,” said Dan Raz, M.D., co-director of the Lung Cancer  and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope. “Medicare got this right because lung cancer screening saves lives in high-risk current and former smokers. In fact, the low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer has the potential to save more lives than any cancer test in history.” » Continue Reading

Powered by philanthropy: Bold science, better cancer treatments

February 17, 2015 | by   
Impact of cancer research

At City of Hope, the breakthroughs discovered here are shared with cancer researchers, clinicians and patients worldwide.

At City of Hope, innovative scientific research, important clinical studies and vital construction projects are all powered by philanthropy. Generous supporters fuel a powerful and diverse range of progress in science and medicine, enabling researchers and clinicians to improve cancer treatments and create cures not just for cancer, but also for diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses.

Take a look at what City of Hope supporters have helped build, launch and create over the past year:

Improving care through science

Innovative approaches: In 2014, John Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine, pushed ahead in his research on meditope technology. As described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these engineered peptides “fit” into antibodies, much like a lock and key, making it possible to selectively deliver material to cancer cells.

This research has already earned funding from the prestigious W. M. Keck Foundation, which is helping Williams’ team advance its applications. Those include the recent development of several new meditopes that can be attached to therapeutic antibodies targeting several different forms of cancer, including breast cancer. » Continue Reading

#LastChemo: ‘Attitude is everything,’ says 21-year-old cancer survivor

February 16, 2015 | by   
#lastchemo: young cancer survivor

Rhabdomyosarcoma survivor Trevor Hoffman, 21, celebrates his #LastChemo with a solid plan for 2015.

Trevor Hoffman was only 21 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, but not even cancer could keep him off his motorcycles. (He has one for racing, and a couple just for fun.) Now a cancer survivor, Hoffman, who lives in La Verne, California, wrapped up his treatment Jan. 19 – just one day after his 21st birthday.

What was your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. [Also known as RMS, rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue tumor in children, leading to tumors in muscles attached to bones. Although it can occur in many places in the body, the most common areas are the head, neck, arms, legs and urogenital tract.]

What would you tell other patients about to undergo chemotherapy? In other words, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

It’s definitely going to be a tough road no matter what. But attitude is everything. Try to keep the best focus on the outcome in the end. Keep a positive attitude. Even though it was a year of craziness, that was one of the things I felt I had the entire time. » Continue Reading

Valentine’s Day advice for couples facing cancer: Ignore expectations

February 13, 2015 | by   

Valentine’s Day is synonymous with dinner reservations, red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and — more often than not — unrealistically high expectations.

Valentine's Day

On Valentine’s Day, couples coping with cancer should drop the expectations that come with the holiday, and focus on what’s important to them as a couple.

Managing those expectations is great advice for all couples on Feb. 14 — and is especially important for couples confronting a cancer diagnosis. Focus on the opportunity to connect as a couple in a way that is most meaningful for you, and not what others think Valentine’s Day is about, advises Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., head of the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program, offered through the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center.

“During Valentine’s Day, couples may feel pressure to do what they did prior to the cancer diagnosis or what everyone else is doing,” Bitz says. “I encourage couples to openly communicate about these external and internal expectations so they can work together on how they can best feel connected to one another.”

Couples Coping with Cancer Together provides couples therapy to couples confronting a breast cancer diagnosis as part of their standard medical care. Bitz’s advice can be applied to all couples who are dealing with cancer. The support of a spouse or partner is especially important during cancer care, but keeping a close and intimate connection can be challenging when one or both members of a couple are feeling emotionally and physically taxed.

Bitz offers this Valentine’s Day advice: » Continue Reading

Measles and cancer: What you should know

February 13, 2015 | by   

With measles, what starts at a theme park in California definitely doesn’t stay at a theme park in California. Since the beginning of the current measles outbreak – traced to an initial exposure at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure during December – more than 100 people have been diagnosed with a disease wrongly considered to have been vanquished.

Measles and cancer

Cancer patients can’t be vaccinated against the measles virus (depicted in illustration). They must rely on members of their community to keep them safe.

The all-but-forgotten hallmark of childhood is now rippling across the country – with people from New York to Washington, Arizona to Georgia, affected. Beyond fever, cough, red eyes, runny nose and the signature red rash, the disease can lead to ear infections, diarrhea and, in more severe cases, pneumonia, encephalitis and death. One or two of every 1,000 children who develop the disease die from it.

To say the disease is highly contagious would be an understatement. Every new diagnosis makes clear what can happen in a population largely unexposed to measles, with a spotty vaccination record against it. But much remains unknown, including how worried cancer patients should be.

Bernard Tegtmeier, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist and an expert in the spread of infectious diseases, offered some perspective in this interview. » Continue Reading

Couples cope best with breast cancer when they cope together

February 12, 2015 | by   

Even the most loving and secure relationship can be rattled by a life-threatening illness.

breast cancer

Couples Coping with Cancer Together integrates couples counseling as a standard part of breast cancer treatment.

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, research shows one of the most important factors in helping her cope is having a supportive partner. But that partner can struggle with knowing what to say or how to best support their loved one.

Through research and clinical experience with breast cancer and relationships, City of Hope has found that specific skills and behaviors can help a couple grow closer despite the stress of cancer. That’s why City of Hope created the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program, which is solely funded by private donations.

“We are the only program of our kind,” said Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W., a social worker in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and head of the Couples Coping with Cancer Together program. “We make this support and counseling a standard part of the care. We normalize it, and take away the stigma. Even the healthiest of couples can struggle – it’s not only couples who were already having difficulties who struggle with a cancer diagnosis.” » Continue Reading