Weight gain can be an unexpected side effect of cancer treatment

February 19, 2014 | by   

A side effect of cancer treatment many people don’t expect? Weight gain.

Weight gain is an often unexpected side effect of cancer treatment that can expose survivors to higher risk. Foods like fruits and vegetables, high in nutrients and fiber while low in calories, can help weight control.

Weight gain is an often unexpected side effect of cancer treatment that can expose survivors to higher risk. Foods like fruits and vegetables, high in nutrients and fiber while low in calories, can help weight control.

People with certain cancers – such as breast, prostate and colon cancer – are more likely to gain weight during treatment due to the therapies used to combat their disease. Hormone therapy, some chemotherapy regimens and medications such as steroids  all can cause weight gain, as well as water retention.

Other treatments can increase appetite or cause fatigue – which can lead to eating more and moving less, a common formula for weight gain. In other cases, old-fashioned stress and “comfort” food could be triggers for weight gain.

Some studies of cancer patients have linked obesity to an increased risk of recurrence and death in several common cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. The California Teachers Study, led by City of Hope’s Leslie Bernstein, showed that being obese was associated with a significant increase of dying from breast cancer for many women.

Patients currently in treatment, however, shouldn’t go on a diet – even if they find themselves gaining weight – without speaking to their physician. A doctor can help determine why weight is increasing and discuss the options.

The population of cancer survivors in the U.S. is on the rise at the same time as the obesity rate is increasing – to the point that two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight – so naturally, the number of cancer survivors struggling with their weight also has increased. » Continue Reading

Antidepressant Paxil boosts estrogen activity, new study finds

February 18, 2014 | by   

Humans are exposed to countless chemicals every day, so identifying the ones that can impact their health – specifically the ones that can increase cancer risk – is akin to looking for a sugar crystal in a salt shaker.

chemicals and estrogen

Many common chemicals can affect estrogen activity in the body. A new test created by City of Hope researchers can identify whether chemicals promote or inhibit estrogen activity in the body.

But that process has now been made much less arduous by researchers at City of Hope. They’ve developed a screening test that can analyze 16 times as many chemicals as conventional means. The test — called AroER tri-screen™ — can quickly analyze up to 1,536 compounds’ effect on estrogen and aromatase, an enzyme that converts androgen to estrogen.

The results verifying this novel screening method — and discovering that the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil) acts as an estrogen promoter —are published ahead of print online in Toxicological Sciences.

“Approximately 70 percent of breast cancers are sensitive to estrogen, and exposure to estrogen-disrupting compounds — especially during the critical periods of pregnancy, childhood and adolescence — can have an irreversible impact on still-developing bodies,” said Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., professor and chair of City of Hope’s Department of Cancer Biology and lead author of the study. “Thus, it makes sense to develop this test, which can assess many chemicals at once, to help us quickly identify which environmental compounds are disrupting estrogen functions.”

» Continue Reading

Brain tumor research: 3 foundations back neural stem cell work

February 18, 2014 | by   

Despite gradual improvements over the years, brain tumors remain particularly tricky to treat. Treatment can affect normal brain tissue, which can cause physical and cognitive impairment. One particularly challenging obstacle is the blood-brain barrier, which prevents cancer drugs from passing into the brain and attacking the tumor. Gutova is an assistant research professor of neurosciences . She may have found a way to get through that barrier — using neural stem cells.

But Margarita Gutova, M.D., assistant research professor in the laboratory of Karen Aboody, M.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences and the Division of Neurosurgery, in collaboration with Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D., director of the tumor initiation and maintenance program at Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute, may have found a way to bypass this barrier using neural stem cells — self-renewing cells that can later differentiate into neurons and other nervous system cells.

“Neural stem cells offer a novel way to overcome this obstacle because they can cross the blood-brain barrier and selectively target tumor cells throughout the brain,” Gutova said.

In this visualization, neural stem cells (red) are gathering around the brain tumor cells (green), showing its potential to selectively deliver treatment at the tumor site.

In this visualization, neural stem cells (red) gather around the brain tumor cells (green), showing the potential to selectively deliver treatment at the tumor site.

In the video above, Gutova explained how this ability can be harnessed to help treat brain tumors. Used as a delivery vehicle, neural stem cells can be engineered to target and deliver anti-cancer agents specifically to brain tumor sites. This method results in concentrated therapy at the tumor sites, while minimizing harm to surrounding normal tissue.

Additionally, Gutova is investigating whether the neural stem cells can be delivered intranasally, or through the nostrils and nasal cavity. This novel delivery method, if proven effective, is much less invasive, and could reduce the number of complicated procedures — and their associated risks — that these young patients must often endure. » Continue Reading

Life after breast cancer: Too many black women don’t receive follow-up

February 17, 2014 | by   

As the nation commemorates Black History Month, a City of Hope researcher is calling attention to the fact that a shocking 15 percent of African-American breast cancer survivors do not receive annual follow-up mammograms after their treatment stops.

Breast tumor

Black breast cancer survivors are not receiving regular mammograms, a basic component of follow-up care. City of Hope researchers are developing tools to help ensure they get the support they need during the follow-up phase of treatment.

“We did a preliminary study that informed our current survivorship study – and so many African-American breast cancer survivors were not getting basic minimal follow-up surveillance,” said Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., founding director of the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education. “Also, patients were not being educated about their treatments, possible side effects and how to improve their symptom management and self-care to enhance their survivorship.”

Among the health disparities faced by black women – and by Latina women – is a greater-than-average risk for more serious disease and death from breast cancer. In addition, black women face an increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, delays in diagnosis and treatment, and a lack of follow-up care.

Survivorship care plans are now the standard of care, according to the Commission on Cancer, and Ashing and her team are evaluating how to tailor these plans to various ethnic groups.  » Continue Reading

What’s in cigarette smoke? Name your poison

February 14, 2014 | by   

What's in a cigarette?

Cigarettes are obviously bad for your health. They’re blamed for one in five deaths in the United States and for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also contribute to the risk heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema and stroke.

In fact, cigarettes cause more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, car accidents and guns –  combined.

Most people understand that cigarettes contain chemicals. What they might not understand is what happens when those chemicals are burned. Once lit, a cigarette releases – via smoke – thousands of chemicals, many of them both toxic and carcinogenic.

“We do not know all the chemicals that go into a cigarette,” said Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation and smoking cessation at City of Hope. “There are somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 chemicals. And a cigarette would not necessarily continue to burn if it weren’t for these additives that the tobacco industry puts in them.”

Some of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are also found in batteries, rocket fuel, toilet cleaners and rat poison.

» Continue Reading

Breast cancer expert puts new mammogram findings into proper context

February 13, 2014 | by   

Yet another study is casting doubt about the value of mammograms, eroding the confidence of many women in the value of what has proven to be a lifesaving screening for breast cancer.

breast cancer

Mammograms don’t actually save lives, a controversial new study contends. City of Hope’s Laura Kruper, however, offers some need-to-know context to those findings.

The study, published Feb. 11 in the British Medical Journal, found that death rates over 25 years were the same among women ages 40 to 59 regardless of whether or not they underwent regular mammograms.

The researchers wrote in their conclusion: “Our results support the views of some commentators that the rationale for screening by mammography should be urgently reassessed by policy makers.”

But many physicians who feel responsible for women’s health are unconvinced.

“This study does not change my view,” said Laura Kruper, M.D., head of breast surgery service at City of Hope and director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center. » Continue Reading

From the expert: How to help families whose children have cancer

February 13, 2014 | by   

Learning that a friend or colleague’s child has been diagnosed with cancer can leave people wanting to help – then stopping short because they have no idea how to do so.

Sick child

Friends and family often don’t know what to say to, or how to help, parents whose children have cancer. We offer some guidance.

“So often, people don’t know what to do or say, so they back off, waiting for the family to reach out. Meanwhile, the family is in chaos and trauma, and doesn’t know how or when to reach out,” said Jeanelle Folbrecht, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope.Folbrecht’s overall advice: “Stay engaged with the family in a way that’s not intrusive … that shows that you care, are willing to help, and that you don’t feel helping is a burden,” she said.

In this interview, she offers some guidelines on how best to bring comfort. » Continue Reading

Tom Brokaw diagnosis calls attention to gains against multiple myeloma

February 12, 2014 | by   

TV journalist Tom Brokaw’s recent acknowledgement of his multiple myeloma diagnosis calls attention not only to the disease, but also to how much progress doctors have made against it.

Vaccines against cancer

City of Hope is home to some of the most advanced work against multiple myeloma, with researchers discovering, and refining, treatments. Ultimately, vaccines could become a potent new tool against the disease.

City of Hope has been at the forefront of that progress. Our Multiple Myeloma Program is known internationally for its research breakthroughs and clinical treatments. Here, researchers have developed new combinations of chemotherapy medications and have improved procedures used for stem cell transplants and radiation treatments.

Amrita Krishnan, M.D., director of the Multiple Myeloma Program at City of Hope, summed up the prognosis for patients this way: It’s improving all the time. » Continue Reading

Lymphoma changed Emmet and Toni Stephenson; now they want to change it

February 12, 2014 | by   

During their 46-year marriage – an attraction begun as kindergarten sweethearts – entrepreneurs Emmet and Toni Stephenson have worked together to build diverse businesses ranging from portfolio management to Internet publishing. When Toni was diagnosed with T cell lymphoma last spring, the couple refocused their energies into restoring her health.


Emmet and Toni Stephenson with their daughter Tessa Stephenson Brand

“Cancer became the center of our life,” Emmet said. “Our priorities really got changed and turned upside down almost instantly.”

“It did change us,” Toni said. “It was quite a summer.”

Toni is currently in remission following treatment at City of Hope, and the couple and their only child, Tessa Stephenson Brand, recently gave City of Hope $10 million to create the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center. That center is the cornerstone of City of Hope’s new Hematologic Malignancies Institute. 

Here, the couple shares their life-changing experience – and how it led them to where they are today: trying to change the future for other people with lymphoma.  » Continue Reading

‘Ask the Experts: HPV and Links to Cancer': What you need to know

February 11, 2014 | by   

What is HPV? How is it linked to cancer? How can I prevent it? Those are some of the questions many women have about human papillomavirus, or HPV. City of Hope physicians will provide the answers at our Feb. 20 “Ask the Experts” presentation.

Mark Wakabayahsi of City of Hope

Mark Wakabayashi, chief of gynecologic oncology at City of Hope, will discuss the HPV vaccine and links to cervical cancer.

The session, titled “HPV and Links to Cancer,” will feature three City of Hope experts. 

Mark Wakabayashi, M.D., M.P.H., associate clinical professor and chief of gynecologic oncology, will focus on the virus’ connection to cervical cancer and on the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent the disease.

Ellie Maghami, M.D., associate clinical professor and chief of head and neck surgery, will discuss oropharyngeal cancer (throat cancer), the changing patient profile of the disease and HPV awareness.

And Lily Lai, M.D., associate clinical professor, will talk about HPV and its connection to anal cancer. 

Here, our experts offer a preview of the session. » Continue Reading