Tip for parents of children with cancer: ‘Be the parent’ (VIDEO)

February 27, 2014 | by   

Parenting a child isn’t easy. Parenting a child with cancer can be infinitely more difficult. But parents can’t give up on their basic responsibilities to raise a child properly.

In this video, Jeanelle Folbrecht, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope, offers parents of young cancer patients some perspective. “You still have to be the parent. This is still a developing person,” she says. “You need to be engaged in that development.”

Folbrecht adds: “That will create for your child a sense of safety that things aren’t so bad that all of a sudden I don’t get parented and I get everything I want in the world.”


Read the Wolfrank family’s advice to parents of children with cancer.

Brisk walking is enough to lower stroke risk, study finds (w/VIDEO)

February 26, 2014 | by   

When it comes to working out, harder and faster may not always be better. That’s what Sophia Wang, Ph.D., associate professor at City of Hope’s Department of Population Sciences, found about exercise and stroke risk when she looked into the connection between the two.

Examining data from more than 133,000 women in the California Teachers Study, Wang and her team found that participants who regularly exercise at a moderate level (which includes brisk walking, recreational tennis, golf and bicycling on flat surfaces) are 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who do not exercise at all. Additionally, moderate exercise offsets some of the increase in stroke risk caused by hormone replacement therapy.

Further, Wang found that women who engage in strenuous activity (such as jogging, bicycling on hills, basketball and aerobics) at the same frequency do not experience additional benefits against stroke compared to the moderate level group. » Continue Reading

Is an epidemic of thyroid cancer really an epidemic of diagnosis?

February 25, 2014 | by   

An epidemic of thyroid cancer in the U.S. is actually an epidemic of diagnosis, conclude the authors of a new report. Their analysis pointed out that, although thyroid cancer diagnoses have nearly tripled during the past 30 years, mortality rates have remained the same. To them, this means the disease has been dramatically overdiagnosed.

Screening for thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is overdiagnosed, a new study bluntly claims. A City of Hope expert disagrees, pointing to mortality data as proof that screening works. Here, a woman undergoes screening for thyroid abnormalities.

City of Hope thyroid cancer expert John Yim, M.D., associate professor of surgery, strongly disagrees.

“I think ‘overdiagnosis’ is an inappropriate term,” said Yim, who was not involved in the research published recently in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. “All of the patients are presumed to have been accurately diagnosed with thyroid cancer, primarily papillary thyroid cancer [the most-common, least-aggressive kind]. The question is whether the thyroid cancer identified, particularly when small, will progress to become symptomatic or deadly.”

That remains the nettlesome question both for physicians and for patients. Is watching and waiting – dubbed “active surveillance” – as safe for small tumors as surgical removal of them?  » Continue Reading

Peer program helps black women during, and after, breast cancer

February 24, 2014 | by   

After adjusting to the rigors of a cancer patient’s schedule – a barrage of appointments with surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, chemotherapy treatments, surgeries, tests – cancer survivors have large adjustments to make.

Kommah McDowell, a breast cancer survivor, serves as a mentor for black women who recently completed breast cancer treatment and are transitioning into the follow-up stage of their care.

Kommah McDowell, a breast cancer survivor, serves as a mentor for black women who recently completed breast cancer treatment and are transitioning into the follow-up stage of their care.

“You get into this system where you’re seeing multiple doctors a week – you’re in a groove, and you’re comfortable with it,” said Kommah McDowell, a 37-year-old breast cancer survivor. “Then, it’s over. There’s this gap. In one word: Life.”

Through its African-American Breast Cancer Coalition, City of Hope is seeking ways to make sure black women don’t fall into a gap, but back into the groove of their lives while getting all the support they need along the way. McDowell serves as a peer navigator, helping women who have completed their treatment transition to the follow-up stage for a research study that aims to improve quality of life, survivorship care and the well-being of African-American women who have survived cancer.

“We’re finding out that African-American women need a little more support in terms of educating them in the follow-up phase of treatment,” said Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., director of the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education, in a recent CBS Los Angeles interview. Ashing heads studies examining the effectiveness of peer navigators in improving outcomes for minority women both in active treatment as well as in the follow-up stages of care.

Black women have a five-year survival rate of 78 percent after a breast cancer diagnosis, compared to a 90 percent survival rate for white women. The coalition believes that early detection, appropriate treatment and follow-up care can save lives and close that gap. » Continue Reading

What to say? What to do? Helping parents of cancer patients (VIDEOs)

February 20, 2014 | by   

A friend’s child has been hospitalized for cancer treatment. You want to visit, but don’t know what to say. You want to help, but don’t know what to do. City of Hope has some advice.

In this video series, Jeanelle Folbrecht, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology in the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope, explains what to say – and not say – to parents of young cancer patients; provides some do’s and don’ts when visiting a child in the hospital; and stresses the need to stay engaged with the family, even after treatment. » Continue Reading

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