Meet our doctors: Surgeon Laleh Melstrom on rewards of fighting melanoma

May 24, 2015 | by   
Laleh Melstrom, M.D. , the newest skin cancer surgeon at City of Hope.

Meet Laleh Melstrom, an expert in  surgery for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is an enticing field to be in these days. Just ask Laleh Melstrom, M.D. M.S., one of City of Hope’s newest surgeons. “In the last few years, melanoma has been the type of cancer that has really shown the most progress in terms of treatments,” Melstrom said. “It’s the one cancer in 2015 that is probably the most exciting in terms of survival.”

The new melanoma treatments that have recently emerged “delay recurrences and progression,” said Melstrom, an assistant clinical professor of surgery who joined City of Hope in March from a similar role at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “And there are more forthcoming. They’re targeting aspects of the immune system to stimulate its response to melanoma” – the most deadly form of skin cancer.

However, although melanoma has seen “a lot of progress in the development of targeted therapies to treat for systemic disease, early surgical intervention remains the most effective strategy for preventing metastatic disease and prolonging survival,” Melstrom said.

Melstrom enjoys the challenges that skin cancer presents. “There are a multitude of treatment options for almost every cancer,” she said. “And tailoring the plan for each individual and their family and their value system is what makes this an art and not just a technical practice. The modalities of treatment cross all different disciplines. To be knowledgeable about all the different practices, as well as the person’s value system, really makes it a rewarding job.”

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Skin cancer treatment: Research combined with a comprehensive approach

May 23, 2015 | by   

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States today, and its incidence is on the rise. Forty to 50 percent of light-skinned Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lives.

skin cancer treatment

Skin cancer treatment is improving, especially for melanoma (shown here). Clinical trials and ongoing research have fueled the advances.

Most of these skin cancers – about 3.5 million cases – are the basal cell and squamous cell types, which are highly treatable if caught early. “A lot of people get basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but not a lot of people die of them,” said City of Hope board-certified skin cancer surgeon Laleh Melstrom, M.D., of the lesions that typically appear on the face, the tops of the ears and the scalp.

Added City of Hope dermatologist and assistant professor Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D.: “For most small, nonmelanoma skin cancers, surgical incision is curative 95 percent to 99 percent of the time.”

In contrast, there are just 79,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States each year – and 10,000 deaths.

Despite its relative rarity compared to these other forms of skin cancer, melanoma makes up about 50 to 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths, according to Melstrom. “Melanoma has seen a lot of progress in the development of targeted therapies to treat for systemic disease, but early surgical intervention remains the most effective strategy for preventing metastatic disease and prolonging survival,” she said.

If doctors can catch it at Stage 1, “melanoma has a five-year-survival rate approaching 98 percent,” Melstrom said, adding that “the vast majority of melanomas are early stage and curable. Just 12 percent or so present late and have a mortality risk.”

But, with leading-edge research and skin cancer treatment, the City of Hope skin-cancer team is at the forefront of the attack on even later stages of this most-deadly form of skin cancer. » Continue Reading

Lifestyle and cancer: What cancer experts say (w/VIDEO)

May 22, 2015 | by   

The connection between lifestyle and cancer is real. Knowing that, what can individuals do to lower their risk?

City of Hope physicians recently came together to answer that precise question, explaining the links between cancer and the choices we make that affect our health.

Moderator Vijay Trisal M.D., medical director of City of Hope’s community practices and an associate clinical professor of surgical oncology, led the discussion. The featured panelists were Suzy Melkonian, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Santa Clarita and Mission Hills; Elizabeth Lynn Meyering, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Simi Valley; and Wei-Chien Michael Lin, M.D., associate clinical professor at City of Hope | Mission Hills.

Below are a couple of questions and responses addressed by the panelists. » Continue Reading

Mushroom powder linked to lower PSA levels in prostate cancer patients

May 22, 2015 | by   

White button mushrooms seem fairly innocuous as fungi go. Unlike portabellas, they don’t center stage at the dinner table, and unlike truffles, they’re not the subject of gourmand fervor. But appearances can be deceiving when it comes to these mild-mannered Clark Kents of the food world.

white button mushrooms and prostate cancer

Powder made from white button mushrooms appears able to lower PSA levels in men previously treated for prostate cancer.

In a study led by City of Hope researchers, a powder made of white button mushrooms was found to reduce the levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, in prostate cancer patients whose PSA levels had been rising. And, even better, the powder caused no ill effects.

Here’s why that matters. A rise in PSA levels in men already treated for prostate cancer can be a harbinger of disease recurrence. So when those levels rise – and continue to rise – men know that further treatment is likely necessary. Men need a way to keep those PSA levels down or, more to the point, help prevent cancer’s recurrence.

White button mushrooms could be it. » Continue Reading

10 facts about brain tumors that you might not know

May 22, 2015 | by   
brain tumor awareness

May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month. Help spread awareness of this disease by sharing these facts with family and friends.

Doctors often recommend preventive screenings for several cancers, based on hereditary or genetic factors, but brain tumors aren’t one of them.

Primary brain tumors, which originate in the brain rather than spreading from another location, seem to develop at random, and doctors have little insight into who might develop one. Further, such tumors don’t even have obvious symptoms until the disease is already advanced.

In fact, most people know little about brain tumors. So here we shed some light on, and raise awareness of, a disease that is rarely discussed, but should be. » Continue Reading

STOP CANCER supports innovative scientists with research grants

May 22, 2015 | by   
Research grants

Mark Boldin, left, pictured with Steven Rosen, provost and chief scientific officer, received a research grant, along with Thomas Slavin and Yuan Yuan that will provide $50,000 in funding for three years, totaling $150,000 each.

Stopping cancer starts with research. To that end, STOP CANCER has awarded $525,000 in grants to City of Hope for 2015, supporting innovative research projects and recognizing the institution’s leadership in advancing cancer treatment and prevention.

Founded in 1988, STOP CANCER underwrites the work of leading-edge scientists. The organization’s grants provide initial support for new and established researchers, giving their work exposure that can lead to additional funding and major advancements in fighting cancers.

Three faculty members received Research Career Development awards that will provide $50,000 in funding for three years, totaling $150,000 each:

  • Mark Boldin, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, received an award for his research on lymphoma and microRNA biology. Boldin’s research group is investigating the role of microRNAs in the regulation of inflammation and cancer.
  • Thomas Slavin, M.D., assistant clinical professor of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, received an award to study the genetics of pancreatic and gastric cancers under the mentorship of cancer geneticists Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., director of the division, and Susan Neuhausen, Ph.D., The Morris & Horowitz Families Professor in Cancer Etiology & Outcomes Research and co-leader of City of Hope’s Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program. Slavin will examine the genotypes of individuals with pancreatic and gastric cancers to look for hereditary markers that could be used to determine hereditary cancer risk.
  • Yuan Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, received the Margie and Robert E. Peterson Foundation Research Career Development Award to study novel therapeutics to overcome therapy resistance in breast cancer. Yuan’s research project will focus on an arginine-depleting enzyme utilizing breast cancer cell lines.

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Researchers hunt cancer’s origins within the tumor microenvironment

May 21, 2015 | by   

Cancer may not be the disease many people think it is.

cancer and the microenvironment

Cancer may not be a disease of proliferation so much as a product of its own microenvironment, leading researchers say.

Normally, cancer is considered to be a disease in which cells multiply at an extremely high, and unusual, rate – increasing the likelihood of genetic mutations. But increasingly, leading researchers at City of Hope and elsewhere are contending that cancer is, in large part, a disease of cell movement and so-called seeding.

If you’re looking for a culprit, they say, look to cancer cells’ microenvironment. That environment – with its fostering of cell accumulation and growth – likely encourages tumors to form. By looking at cancer in this revolutionary way, they hope to develop new and better treatments for a disease that continues to take far too high a toll.

On Thursday, May 21, Larry Norton, M.D., deputy physician-in-chief of breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, shared his perspective on the topic. » Continue Reading

The Health Disparities Movement: Looking back, looking ahead

May 21, 2015 | by   

“Of all forms of inequality, injustice in the health care system is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Health Disparities movement

CCARE helps underserved populations learn more, live healthier and receive better care.

By the time the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words in Chicago in 1966, the Civil Rights Act had been passed, the Voting Rights Act was the law of the land and the March on Washington was a 3-year-old memory. Yet King clearly recognized his work was far from complete. He knew he needed to advocate for what’s been called “America’s forgotten civil right.”

At about the same time, a group of psychologists gathered at the Swampscott Conference in Boston, where they began to shift their thinking from individual practice to the still-new realm of community psychology. It wasn’t enough, they realized, to treat a single patient when his or her community may be in crisis. A broader view was needed, one that examined social justice, diversity, empowerment, citizen participation … and yes, prevention and health promotion.

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Supportive care innovator Matthew Loscalzo on City of Hope: ‘We’re unique’

May 20, 2015 | by   

Matthew Loscalzo, administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and executive director of City of Hope’s Department of Supportive Care Medicine.

Eight years ago, Matthew Loscalzo surprised himself by accepting the offer to become City of Hope’s administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and executive director of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine. At the time, he was administrative director of the Science of Caring Department he had founded at UC San Diego, and he loved it. He thought it would be his last professional gig.

But City of Hope made him the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. “It took a lot of chutzpah for them to have this vision,” Loscalzo said in a New York accent as thick as cream cheese. Armed with best-in-show credentials, he directed the organization of a department in a way no other cancer center had dared to conjure.

Loscalzo’s success in establishing and sustaining the department is only the latest of his remarkable achievements, which have been recognized recently with two prestigious awards. In October, he received the Noemi Fisman Award for Lifetime Clinical Excellence from the International Psycho-Oncology Society. This year, he received the Holland Distinguished Leadership Award from the American Psychosocial Oncology Society.

“I get recognition because my team is smarter than I am,” Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., was quick to acknowledge. “I work with a bunch of people who are fantastic.” » Continue Reading

‘Chemo brain’ catches many patients unaware; new program can help

May 19, 2015 | by   
chemo brain and cancer

Few patients are prepared for the cognitive side effects of cancer treatment, known as “chemo brain.” A new City of Hope program is helping solve that problem.

The mental fog that patients can experience after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer has a name: “chemo brain.”

“Many patients report hearing or reading about chemotherapy-related cognitive deficits, but few are actually prepared to deal with these changes,” said Celina Lemon, M.A., an occupational therapy doctoral resident in the Department of Rehabilitation Services.

With Lemon’s guidance and the support of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, occupational therapists at City of Hope implemented a program over the past year to help patients cope with the cognitive dysfunction that can occur during or after cancer treatment.

Nearly 200 patients have benefited so far.

The “chemo brain” program initially targeted those who must undergo an “autologous” stem cell transplant, which uses a patient’s own bone marrow. Before such a transplant, a patient’s immune system is typically suppressed by high-intensity chemotherapy, which has been known to contribute to cognitive decline. Since then, the program has expanded to any patient who qualifies for cognitive therapy after being assessed.

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